BMGD #32: Alma 53-63

August 13, 2012 | 4 comments
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Once again, I can’t believe there are so many chapters in one lesson.  There’s just no way to do this (or last week, or the Isaiah chapters) justice when so many chapters need to be covered at once.

CHAPTER 53

1 And it came to pass that they did set guards over the prisoners of the Lamanites, and did compel them to go forth and bury their dead, yea, and also the dead of the Nephites who were slain; and Moroni placed men over them to guard them while they should perform their labors.

There are several references in the BoM to burying the dead after battle.  Why did our writer/editor think this was worth including in the record?  (I wonder if I have made some assumptions about burial customs that might not have been relevant to them.  That said, they are pretty far from the world of the OT, but in that world, it was considered dishonorable not to have a proper burial.  If that is the case here, then ensuring proper burial of Lamanite war dead would be the decent thing to do.  I also wonder if it is possible if Nephite and Lamanite burial customs were different, but I suppose we have no way to figure that out.)

Why did they have to “compel” them to bury their own dead?  (I would have thought that would have done that willingly.)

In the past, Nephites have buried the dead on both sides of the battle, but in this case, they have the Lamanites POWs do it.  Is this significant?  What does it imply to us about the idea of keeping POWs, which is an innovation at this point?

Sometimes when the dead are buried, we hear that they were too numerous to be counted.  (Which I have a hard time taking at face value–you can’t tell me that you have the manpower to bury bodies but not count them.) But you don’t hear that here.  Is that significant?

Notice the repetition of this idea that these POWs are guarded.  Does that suggest that we should be focusing our attention on the guards?  If so, why?  (My thought:  I suspect that we are supposed to see the taking of POWs as an improvement over the old plan, which was to kill those who wouldn’t promise not to fight again.  We see that, yes, they do need to be guarded, but that the labor requirement of the Nephites is actually reduced, because they can use the  POWs to bury the dead.  In fact, this might explain why we had all those references to burying the dead in the first place:  it sets up the point made here that taking POWs was a more efficient use of labor.)

 2 And Moroni went to the city of Mulek with Lehi, and took command of the city and gave it unto Lehi. Now behold, this Lehi was a man who had been with Moroni in the more part of all his battles; and he was a man like unto Moroni, and they rejoiced in each other’s safety; yea, they were beloved by each other, and also beloved by all the people of Nephi.

Echoes of David and Jonathon here?  If so, what might we learn from that?

What do you learn about the word “beloved” from this verse?

I think this verse is pointing to a powerful male friendship–not a topic that we see a whole lot about in the scriptures.  What might we learn from this?  How might it be relevant today?  (Perhaps opening up a can of worms here, but I think it is a given in [middle-class American] Mormon culture that women need time to develop friendships, but men don’t.  Is this true?)

Given the description of Lehi here, it is pretty surprising that we don’t hear that much about him.

Brant Gardner:

It is interesting that Moroni does not give the possession of Mulek to Teancum, who was the commander of the army in this area. Perhaps Moroni needed Teancum’s more unconventional talents in other areas. Citation

 3 And it came to pass that after the Lamanites had finished burying their dead and also the dead of the Nephites, they were marched back into the land Bountiful; and Teancum, by the orders of Moroni, caused that they should commence laboring in digging a ditch round about the land, or the city, Bountiful.

Does this verse imply that they buried the Lamanite dead first?  Is this significant?

Again, note that the POWs seem to reflect a net gain for the Nephites in that their labor can be used.

One of the only (maybe the only?) innovations that the Nephites make to the law of Moses is to ban slavery.  Is this slavery, or is it different because they are POWs?

What do you learn from this verse about how the words “land” and “city” are used in the BoM?

Maybe this is a stretch, but note that the Lamanite prisoners are engaged in basically the same act (that is, digging) in v2 and v3.  Is there a useful comparison here between burying the dead and building fortifications?

4 And he caused that they should build a breastwork of timbers upon the inner bank of the ditch; and they cast up dirt out of the ditch against the breastwork of timbers; and thus they did cause the Lamanites to labor until they had encircled the city of Bountiful round about with a strong wall of timbers and earth, to an exceeding height.

One message we got last week is that the Lamanites were, more than once, surprised by the Nephite military innovations (specifically, regarding bodily defensive stuff and then later with defensive stuff for cities).  Here, we have the Lamanites themselves building these fortifications.  Is this significant?  (My thought:  it seems to guarantee that these POWs can’t be released because they will go home and rat out what the Nephites have built.)

Should we be reading this verse allegorically?  (If we wanted to, the part about building defenses is fairly easy to do, but the part about using POWs to do it takes a little more imagination.)

 5 And this city became an exceeding stronghold ever after; and in this city they did guard the prisoners of the Lamanites; yea, even within a wall which they had caused them to build with their own hands. Now Moroni was compelled to cause the Lamanites to labor, because it was easy to guard them while at their labor; and he desired all his forces when he should make an attack upon the Lamanites.

I find it interesting that the reason we are given for the POWs’ labor is that it made it easier to guard them, not that it was a benefit to the Nephites to have this extra labor.  In fact, the word “compelled” makes it sound as if Moroni would have preferred that the Lamanites not be used for labor, but he had no choice–it was the only way they could be guarded.  Why might he have felt this way?  (Is it because of the slavery prohibition?  Or something else?)

Weird idea:  something about having the POWs build their own wall makes me think of seething a kid in its mother’s milk . . . the line “even within a wall . . . hands” seems to emphasize the fact that they were using the Lamanites’ productivity against them.

Note the word “compelled” here–also used above in describing the Lamanites being compelled to bury their dead.  Is there a link between the two?  (My thought:  I wonder if the point is that warfare puts everyone–victor and loser–in the position of doing things that they do not want to do.)

The second sentence in this verse sounds suspiciously like an apology for using Lamanite POW labor.  Is this a practice that Mormon (or an earlier writer) found objectionable for some reason, or thought other people might find objectionable, and therefore felt the need to defend?

 6 And it came to pass that Moroni had thus gained a victory over one of the greatest of the armies of the Lamanites, and had obtained possession of the city of Mulek, which was one of the strongest holds of the Lamanites in the land of Nephi; and thus he had also built a stronghold to retain his prisoners.

Skousen suggests (conjecturally) that “land of Nephi” should be “land of the Nephites.”

This verse is pretty repetitive–why is it here?

Grant Hardy sees a geographical contradiction between the way that Mulek is described in this verse and in Alma 51:25.  Brant Gardner chalks this up to one of the mistakes in the text that Mormon preemptively asked to be forgiven for.

 7 And it came to pass that he did no more attempt a battle with the Lamanites in that year, but he did employ his men in preparing for war, yea, and in making fortifications to guard against the Lamanites, yea, and also delivering their women and their children from famine and affliction, and providing food for their armies.

I find it interesting that this verse doesn’t say “growing crops,” but “delivering women and children from famine.”  I think this verse also suggests that they didn’t have a standing army; if they did, they wouldn’t have needed these guys’ labor for the food supply.

David E. Sorenson:

Resisting the temptations of today’s electronic media is not easy. It takes focused courage and effort. In the small town where I grew up, one had to drive at least an hour to find trouble. But today on the Internet, trouble is just a few mouse clicks away. To avoid such temptations, be like Captain Moroni of old; set up “fortifications” to strengthen your places of weakness. Instead of building walls of “timbers and dirt” to protect a vulnerable city, build “fortifications” in the form of personal ground rules to protect your priceless virtue. When you’re on a date, plan to be in groups and avoid being alone. I know men, young and old, who have simply determined not to turn on the TV or surf the Internet anytime when they are alone. Fathers, it is wise to keep computers and televisions in the family room or other high-traffic areas in your home—not in children’s bedrooms. I also know of fathers who, while on business trips, wisely choose not to turn on the hotel television. Remember, such “fortifications” are not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, they show strength. The scriptures tell us Captain Moroni was so strong that if all men would be like him, “the very powers of hell would [be] shaken forever.” Remember Moroni’s “strongholds” were the key to his success. Creating your own “strongholds” will be the key to yours. One key fortification you can build is to decide now, before you face a challenge, where to draw the line.  Apr 01 GC

I particularly like Sorenson’s idea that fortifications are a sign of strength, not weakness.  I also like the pro-active (not reactive) aspect of them.

8 And now it came to pass that the armies of the Lamanites, on the west sea, south, while in the absence of Moroni on account of some intrigue amongst the Nephites, which caused dissensions amongst them, had gained some ground over the Nephites, yea, insomuch that they had obtained possession of a number of their cities in that part of the land.

Notice how the “intrigue” among the Nephites is introduced in a side-long manner, as a subordinate clause, and not as a main topic in its own right.  You almost get the impression that someone is trying to downplay its significance and would prefer not to tell us about it . . .

Why aren’t we told exactly what the intrigue is?  (My thought:  once again, we see that the writer/editor’s purpose is not to create suspense or entertain.)

Note the causal relationship here between Nephite dissensions and Lamanite military victories.  This is an idea that is frequently alluded to, or promised, but in this one verse it is made very specific.  Once again:  the Lamanites are never the problem.  The Nephites are always their own problem.  In what ways might this concept be relevant to our own lives?

 9 And thus because of iniquity amongst themselves, yea, because of dissensions and intrigue among themselves they were placed in the most dangerous circumstances.

Note that there is no new information in this verse–the point, I think, is to emphasize the message of v8:  internal dissension is the real problem; the Lamanite attacks are a symptom.  (It is worth thinking about what things in our own lives we treat as problems when they should be addressed as symptoms.)

 10 And now behold, I have somewhat to say concerning the people of Ammon, who, in the beginning, were Lamanites; but by Ammon and his brethren, or rather by the power and word of God, they had been converted unto the Lord; and they had been brought down into the land of Zarahemla, and had ever since been protected by the Nephites.

The word “I” is fairly unusual in the scriptures–why is it used here?

We’ve taken “or rather” to usually indicate a case where our writer has made a mistake, or rather (!) realized that his previous meaning might be unclear.  Here, the correction seems to be that the cause of the conversion of the people of Ammon was not Ammon but the word of God.  What might we learn from this?  (Part of the reason that I think this is interesting is that we had an entire chunk of scriptures [starting in Alma 26:10] where Ammon was accused of boasting about his mission, and his brother tries to talk him down.  I suspect that this passage alludes to that one.)

In the past, when the people of Ammon were referred to, we were reminded that they had been called the ANLs.  But that doesn’t happen here; is that significant?

Does “who, in the beginning, were Lamanites” mean that the writer/editor thinks that we may have forgotten this fact (and, if so, what are the implications of the expectation that we aren’t reading that closely) or is it included to emphasize the origin of the people of Ammon?  Or perhaps for some other reason?

Semi-random thought:  I’ve seen people suggest that there are implications for how we think about immigration policy to be found in the story of the ANLs.  First, is this a legitimate application of the scriptures?  Why or why not?  Second, if it is, what does the treatment of the ANLs by the Nephites suggest to us about immigration?  (Here’s a link to a recent official LDS policy on immigration.)

I’m focusing on the word “protected” in this verse.  What does it suggest?  (Remember that the deal was that the ANLs didn’t have to defend themselves against attack because of their oath, but they did have to pay the Nephites to do it.)

And a second semi-random thought about a political hot potato:  We’re currently as a nation having a dust-up over whether religious employers should have to pay for birth control for their employees in cases where the employers find it morally objectionable.  Is the point of this verse that paying for something (such as military protection) is sufficiently distinct from doing the thing yourself (such as burying your swords) that it doesn’t “count” as a sin, or is there a better way to interpret the principle here?

 11 And because of their oath they had been kept from taking up arms against their brethren; for they had taken an oath that they never would shed blood more; and according to their oath they would have perished; yea, they would have suffered themselves to have fallen into the hands of their brethren, had it not been for the pity and the exceeding love which Ammon and his brethren had had for them.

Again, does the recitation of this info imply that we weren’t necessarily expected to remember it? (What do we learn here about the implied audience?)

Note “their brethren” here–not “their enemies.”

I find it curious that this verse says “Ammon and his brethren” when it is the Nephites in general who agreed to defend the people of Ammon, and therefore showed them pity and love and prevented them from perishing from a Lamanite attack.  Perhaps the point of the reference to Ammon is that he was willing to serve as a missionary among them?  Maybe v12 implies that the action referred to here was bringing them to the land of Zarahemla?

I find the use of “pity” in this verse unusual–why was it used?  What does it imply?

 12 And for this cause they were brought down into the land of Zarahemla; and they ever had been protected by the Nephites.

 13 But it came to pass that when they saw the danger, and the many afflictions and tribulations which the Nephites bore for them, they were moved with compassion and were desirous to take up arms in the defence of their country.

Can you determine why this happened now, at not at a previous point when the Nephites had to defend them?  Is there any link to the innovation of taking Lamanite POWs, which is the story recounted immediately before this one?  (It almost sounds as if the people of Ammon did not fully realize what they were agreeing to when the signed on to this deal and they are horrified to see it play out in real life.  Is that the case?)

I find it ironic that compassion leads to a desire to (1) break a covenant and (2) go to war.  What might we learn from this?

This is a very sympathetic portrait of people who are about to violate a sacred covenant.

Is it significant that it is in defense of their country and not of their own people or whatever in this verse?

 14 But behold, as they were about to take their weapons of war, they were overpowered by the persuasions of Helaman and his brethren, for they were about to break the oath which they had made.

Is it a fail for the people of Ammon that they were inches from violating their covenants?  (I wonder if we might read it more sympathetically as saying that, even realizing that the consequence was to jeopardize their eternal souls, the people of Ammon were still willing to defend the Nephites.)

“Overpowered by the persuasions” is an interesting phrase–what does it suggest?

It sort of feels like Helaman comes out of nowhere here, although he is the religious leader and keeper of the record at this time.  I think this incident forces us back to the question of why the war chapters are the war chapters and not the record of Helaman’s ministry.

 15 And Helaman feared lest by so doing they should lose their souls; therefore all those who had entered into this covenant were compelled to behold their brethren wade through their afflictions, in their dangerous circumstances at this time.

“Compelled” in not something we usually view in a positive light.  Why is it used here?  Note that the same word was used earlier in this chapter to describe Moroni’s need to use the labor of the Lamanite POWs.  Is there a link between these two stories?

Does “their” (modifying first afflictions and then dangerous circumstances) refer to the Nephites or the people of Ammon?

We learned above that the real problem is not the Lamanites but internal dissension.  So it is interesting to see the people of Ammon have to pay the price for those dissensions, to the point of being on the brink of violating their covenants and losing their souls.

It is Moroni who shows up with the title of liberty to motivate people to righteousness, but here it is Helaman who shows up to be sure that the people of Ammon keep their covenants.  What does this tell you about the roles that Moroni and Helaman have in this community?

The fact that Helaman enters this situation because they were about the break their covenants makes it all the more interesting that Helaman ends up getting roped into being a military leader–that clearly wasn’t his objective when the story starts.

I think one of the points of the ANL story is that it just isn’t easy to keep covenants.  We are supposed to appreciate the terribly, repeated, protracted difficulty of keeping covenants.  The story also points to the role that leaders (in this case, Helaman) can play in helping people keep their covenants.

 16 But behold, it came to pass they had many sons, who had not entered into a covenant that they would not take their weapons of war to defend themselves against their enemies; therefore they did assemble themselves together at this time, as many as were able to take up arms, and they called themselves Nephites.

Why wasn’t the covenant passed down to their sons?  (This is most unusual.)

Note that this verse uses “enemies” instead of “brethren.”  Is that significant?  (My thought:  I wonder if the sons didn’t enter into this covenant because, to them, the Lamanites were enemies and not brethren.  That doesn’t sound quite right to me, but I do wonder why that word was used.)

I suspect that calling themselves Nephites is not a throw-away line, but that it has to do with their (1) lack of covenant and (2) thinking of the Lamanites as enemies and not brethren.  What’s going on here?

 17 And they entered into a covenant to fight for the liberty of the Nephites, yea, to protect the land unto the laying down of their lives; yea, even they covenanted that they never would give up their liberty, but they would fight in all cases to protect the Nephites and themselves from bondage.

Note that they enter into a covenant–just a different one from their parents.  Not only do they not enter into their parents’ covenant, but they enter into precisely the opposite covenant (required fighting instead of no fighting).

How do you think their parents felt when the sons took this oath?  (That’s a multi-level question . . . I’m thinking relief, terror, pride, unease, and probably a dozen more emotions might have played into their response.)

 18 Now behold, there were two thousand of those young men, who entered into this covenant and took their weapons of war to defend their country.

Is the 2,000 literal, symbolic, or both?  Why are we given this number?  Does it have any relation to the 4,000 unrepentant Nephite kingmen that Moroni had killed recently?

 19 And now behold, as they never had hitherto been a disadvantage to the Nephites, they became now at this period of time also a great support; for they took their weapons of war, and they would that Helaman should be their leader.

In what sense is it true that they hadn’t been a disadvantage to the Nephites?  (Despite the payments that they [or their parents] were making for their defense, presumably their parents felt that they were a drag on the Nephite operation, no?)

Why did they want Helaman to lead them and not Moroni (or Lehi, or whoever else)?  (Remember that Helaman does not, as far as we have been told, have a military background/calling, as Moroni does.)  (Maybe the reason is that they have just seen Helaman help their parents keep their covenant and so they think that Helaman will help them keep their covenant.  In which case, it is interesting to think of Helaman’s role in the coming story as being primarily about helping them keep their covenant and secondarily about being a military dude.)

It is pretty unusual for a group of recruits to choose their own leader.  What should we conclude from the fact that it happens here?

Note that we are going to hear much more about the striplings later, in Helaman’s letter to Moroni.  In fact, the basic info about them that is presented here will have to be repeated there in order for the narrative to flow properly.  Which raises the question:  Why was this material included here?  The intro in v10 makes it look very deliberate.  I wonder if the point isn’t to compare the striplings with the Lamanite prisoners.  That’s the story told immediately before this one and this v10 makes it look like the point of this story is the effect that the striplings had on Nephite military capacity, which is precisely the same point made regarding the role of the Lamanite prisoners in burying the dead and building fortifications.  Also, note that the word “compelled” is used in both stories.  But, having gotten that far, I can’t figure out the punchline:  what is the point of comparing the striplings with the Lamanite prisoners?  (Note that both groups are ethnically Lamanite, something emphasized in this verse.)  (I wonder if the point is to contrast the complete willingness of the striplings with the lack of choice that the Lamanites POWs have.)

 20 And they were all young men, and they were exceedingly valiant for courage, and also for strength and activity; but behold, this was not all—they were men who were true at all times in whatsoever thing they were entrusted.

How literally (versus hyperbolically) do you read this verse?

Do you read this as a summary of stories about these warriors that didn’t make it into the record?

Later, we will learn that these young men will credit their character to their mothers, but we don’t learn that here.

What does it mean to be valiant “for activity”?

“But behold” means “look!  Pay attention!”  (I always think of a blinking neon arrow when I read “behold.”)

I think this verse presumes that before this story, these young men had been entrusted multiple tasks.  What should we learn from this?

Why mention their age here?  (Isn’t it a given, anyway?)

 21 Yea, they were men of truth and soberness, for they had been taught to keep the commandments of God and to walk uprightly before him.

Note that later, they will give their mothers the credit for teaching them this, but here, a passive construction is used so that we do not learn who taught them these things.  (I’m percolating an idea that the unusual emphasis on the teaching role of their mothers has some relationship to the covenant that their fathers entered into, but I am not entirely sure what that relationship might be.)

How do the phrases “keep the commandments of God” and “walk uprightly” relate to each other? (My thought:  the first phrase is the teaching part, the second phrase is the teaching by example part.)

What does “soberness” mean in this verse?  How might you develop this virtue?

22 And now it came to pass that Helaman did march at the head of his two thousand stripling soldiers, to the support of the people in the borders of the land on the south by the west sea.

Does “people in the borders . . .” mean “people of Ammon,” or is it a larger, small, or different group?

It would be reasonable at this point to think we are about to see a train-wreck:  we have youth raised with no military culture, with no military training, who picked their own leader, who was not a military guy, heading off into battle.  (Of course, that isn’t what happens.)

 23 And thus ended the twenty and eighth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.

Another general thought:  in the last lesson, I raised the question as to why these chapters are about military stuff instead of religious stuff, why they are the story of Moroni instead of the story of Helaman.  Here, in a most unexpected way, we have Helaman added in to the narrative.  (It almost feels like a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” kind of thing as Helaman takes on a military role–not at his own instigation, but as a result of the desire of a group of boy soldiers–in order to get some screen time since his religious role was leaving him offstage.)  What’s going on here and what should we learn from it?

CHAPTER 54

1 And now it came to pass in the *commencement of the twenty and ninth year of the judges, that Ammoron sent unto Moroni desiring that he would exchange prisoners.

2 And it came to pass that Moroni felt to rejoice exceedingly at this request, for he desired the provisions which were imparted for the support of the Lamanite prisoners for the support of his own people; and he also desired his own people for the strengthening of his army.

So it seems that Moroni has determined that the trouble of guarding and feeding these prisoners is more trouble than the labor that they are performing.  This is surprising because the last chapter made it sound as if the Nephites were getting a good bit of labor out of the Lamanites POWs (burying the dead and building fortifications).

It is a little weird to picture Moroni “rejoicing exceedingly” at anything a Lamanite king did . . . Is the language just a little overwrought here, or is there something else going on to make him so incredibly happy?

Doesn’t the prisoner exchange mean that there will be more people fighting against the Nephites?  I’m trying to figure out why they didn’t have to take an oath to fight no longer like the other guys did.

What do you think was Ammoron’s motivation here?  Was it the same as Moroni’s?

 

3 Now the Lamanites had taken many women and children, and there was not a woman nor a child among all the prisoners of Moroni, or the prisoners whom Moroni had taken; therefore Moroni resolved upon a stratagem to obtain as many prisoners of the Nephites from the Lamanites as it were possible.

Interesting that we don’t hear about the women and children taken prisoner until this point.  (I’m wondering if we need to go back and re-consider verses such as what was written on the title of liberty [“In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children—and he fastened it upon the end of a pole.”] as not generic statements of devotion but specific statements of a desire to prevent the capture [or:  redeem from capture] women and children.)

So presumably the lack of women and children among Moroni’s prisoners is due to the fact that Moroni didn’t invade Lamanite lands but the Lamanites captured Nephite women and children when they invaded Nephite lands.

Previously, we learned that Moroni considered stratagems acceptable in some situations:

And he also knowing that it was the only desire of the Nephites to preserve their lands, and their liberty, and their church, therefore he thought it no sin that he should defend them by stratagem; therefore, he found by his spies which course the Lamanites were to take. (Alma 43:30)

Is this a similar situation?  What exactly is it about the letter that he writes that constitutes the stratagem?  (It seems very straightforward and above-board to me.)

There’s a really interesting gender dynamic in this story.  This is one way to read it:  normally, it would not be acceptable to consider “man + wife + children = man,” since that sets the value of “wife + children” at zero.  However, in this case, because circumstances led the Lamanites to take women and children prisoners, which the Nephites did not do, it is the only fair way to do the prisoner exchange.  I don’t know of anyone who has examined the message about gender in this story, but this intro to the epistle, with its focus on women and children and strategems, seems to me to make a clear statement about the value of women and children and refuses to let go, without comment, the idea that women and children are worth less than men.

Given that we are about to get a very hot-tempered letter from Moroni, in what sense is he executing a “stratagem”?  (It seems more accurate to say that he is letting his anger get the best of him, which is kind of the opposite of operating according to a set strategy.)

4 Therefore he wrote an epistle, and sent it by the servant of Ammoron, the same who had brought an epistle to Moroni. Now these are the words which he wrote unto Ammoron, saying:

Why was it worth recording and preserving that the messenger was the very same one Ammoron had sent?  (My thought is that it might have been included to show haste–Moroni didn’t let the messenger leave, ponder the letter, take a nap, write a response, hunt down a messenger, etc.  Instead, the process was conducted very quickly.  Which leads to the question:  Why might this have been the case?)

Note that, while we have a variety of genre in the BoM, this is the first epistle.  (Grant Hardy points out that there are eight letters in the BoM, all but three in Alma 54-61.)  Of course, about half of the NT consists of epistles, but this is quite a departure for the BoM.  Begin thinking about why these letters were included and what we should be learning from them.  Obviously, the function, writer, purpose, and audience of the NT letters is radically different, but, still, is there anything useful that you can learn from comparing them?  (Grant Hardy suggests that Helaman may not have kept up the record when he was busy leading the striplings, and this might be why Mormon has to rely on Helaman’s letters to tell the history of this time period.  If this is true, it is an interesting data point in the picture of Helaman that I have been developing, considering some of the ways in that he comes off as a relatively weak character.)

Grant Hardy:

Helaman may have been a good, even great man, but he was not a great record keeper, and Mormon’s inclusion of letters at the end of the book of Alma seems to be an attempt to fill in the historiographical gaps that Helaman had left.  (From Understanding the Book of Mormon:  A Reader’s Guide, ARC.)

5 Behold, Ammoron, I have written unto you somewhat concerning this war which ye have waged against my people, or rather which thy brother hath waged against them, and which ye are still determined to carry on after his death.

Does “have written” mean that he’s written letters before he wrote this one (and we just happened not to ever hear anything about it until now), or is this letter the one that he “has written”?

We think “or rather” usually means “I messed up but you can’t erase these darn plates.”  Is that the case here?  Or is Moroni doing something deliberate in order to distance Ammoron from his brother Amalickiah?

6 Behold, I would tell you somewhat concerning the justice of God, and the sword of his almighty wrath, which doth hang over you except ye repent and withdraw your armies into your own lands, or the land of your possessions, which is the land of Nephi.

Why is a sword a good symbol for God’s wrath?

What do you learn about interpersonal relationships from Moroni here?  (No, I’m serious.)

Is “your own lands” and “the land of your possessions” two ways of saying the same thing or two different things?  Or is Moroni making a point here, or what?

Er, everyone knows that we are talking about “the land of Nephi.”  What, then, is accomplished by Moroni’s reference to it?

7 Yea, I would tell you these things if ye were capable of hearkening unto them; yea, I would tell you concerning that awful hell that awaits to receive such murderers as thou and thy brother have been, except ye repent and withdraw your murderous purposes, and return with your armies to your own lands.

So is he being passive-aggressive here–because he is telling them these things!

Think about the awful sins that had been committed by the Lamanites that Ammon converted (see:  King Lamoni and scape-goated shepherds).  In what ways is Ammoron different?

Does Moroni believe that repentance is possible for Ammoron?  If it is not, then how do you understand “except ye repent . . . ” in this verse?  If it is, then why does he begin this verse by saying that they are not capable of hearing these things?  Does this verse teach us anything generally applicable about the forgivability (I just made up a word!) of murder?

Do you read “I would tell you . . .” as having a certain element of bluster to it, or do you think this is genuinely how Moroni would approach the task of teaching Ammoron about the gospel?  If the latter, do you think this would be the best approach?  Why or why not?  (What other scriptural approaches are similar to it or are different from it?)

Note that his brother is already dead.  How does that shape your interpretation of this verse?

8 But as ye have once rejected these things, and have fought against the people of the Lord, even so I may expect you will do it again.

So is this all just bluster?  Or is it fair or unfair of Moroni to assume that Ammoron wouldn’t hear him out?  (I’m thinking that if someone we were more willing to criticize than Moroni had written this, we would castigate him for thinking that anyone was beyond the reach of the gospel.  We’d remind him that this wasn’t his call to make.)

9 And now behold, we are prepared to receive you; yea, and except you withdraw your purposes, behold, ye will pull down the wrath of that God whom you have rejected upon you, even to your utter destruction.

 

10 But, as the Lord liveth, our armies shall come upon you except ye withdraw, and ye shall soon be visited with death, for we will retain our cities and our lands; yea, and we will maintain our religion and the cause of our God.

Brant Gardner suggests that Moroni might be talking a little bigger than he’s walking here, what with an overstretched army and hints of a famine at home.  (One wonders where the line between bluster and lying is–and whether it would be OK for Moroni to cross it.  Perhaps this is the “stratagem” mentioned above.)

11 But behold, it supposeth me that I talk to you concerning these things in vain; or it supposeth me that thou art a child of hell; therefore I will close my epistle by telling you that I will not exchange prisoners, save it be on conditions that ye will deliver up a man and his wife and his children, for one prisoner; if this be the case that ye will do it, I will exchange.

Is it ever appropriate to call someone a “child of hell”?

Did Moroni actually think that this would lead to a useful negotiation re exchanging prisoners, or was his purpose different here?

So this verse is fairly amazing–Moroni thinks that he can, in the same breath, call Ammoron a child of hell and then suggest that they exchange prisoners in a lopsided way.  What on earth is Moroni doing here:  Had his anger gotten away with him?  Is he just a spectacularly bad negotiator?  Is this a stratagem and, if so, what exactly is going on here?  Or something else?  (Remember that Moroni was extremely happy at the idea of exchanging prisoners, so his apparent recklessness here is even harder to understand.)

12 And behold, if ye do not this, I will come against you with my armies; yea, even I will arm my women and my children, and I will come against you, and I will follow you even into your own land, which is the land of our first inheritance; yea, and it shall be blood for blood, yea, life for life; and I will give you battle even until you are destroyed from off the face of the earth.

So, again, we have an interesting gender dynamic here, with the only BoM verse that suggests giving women and children a military role, and one of only a few BoM verses that even mentions women.  We can see Moroni’s rationale:  if the Lamanites are going to take female and child POWs, and refuse to exchange a family for an individual, then Moroni’s only recourse to make the numbers work out fairly would be to arm the women and children.  Nonetheless, this is a pretty surprising move.   I’m not entirely sure what to make of it, since Moroni does not, in fact, arm women and children when his offer here is refused.  So what do you think was Moroni’s purpose in making this comment?

The Nephites do not normally take the battle to Lamanite land; what justified Moroni’s threat to do that here (or is it just an empty threat)?  Would this be acceptable under the rationales for a just war that we have seen in these chapters (especially since this would be Moroni initiating the conflict after refusing an even prisoner exchange)?  What are the implications of reading this as a simple empty threat?

13 Behold, I am in my anger, and also my people; ye have sought to murder us, and we have only sought to defend ourselves. But behold, if ye seek to destroy us more we will seek to destroy you; yea, and we will seek our land, the land of our first inheritance.

Skousen reads “our lives” instead of “ourselves.”

“Behold, I am in my anger” may be the understatement of the year.  ;)

Once again, we see a consistent pattern of references to Moroni’s anger.  Why is this the predominate emotion associated with him?  It brings up larger questions:  Is anger ever appropriate?  If so, how?

How does the fact of Moroni’s anger influence how you interpret what is happening in this letter?  (In other words, would it be appropriate to discount some of what he is saying under the heading of “well, he just lost his temper”?)

The idea of following the Lamanites and bringing the war to the land of Nephi is an innovation, as is the idea of destroying the Lamanites.  Do you see these ideas as just bluster, a part of the negotiation process, or is Moroni planning something new here?  If the latter, is he doing it under inspiration?  Does it represent a shift from the previously-articulated justification and limitations on warfare?

14 Now I close my epistle. I am Moroni; I am a leader of the people of the Nephites.

What happened to Helaman (the religious leader) and the Pahoran (the civil governmental leader)?!?

So, no master class in diplomacy is ever going to study Moroni’s letter here.  In fact, if he “rejoiced exceedingly” at the idea of a prisoner exchange, this letter is a pretty lame way to go about trying to reach that objective.  What’s going on here?  Are we supposed to be critical of this letter?  Is it a “this is what you should not do” moment?  (Remember that, pretty soon, Moroni is going to write an extremely ill-advised letter to Pahoran where he is just flat-out wrong.)

15 Now it came to pass that Ammoron, when he had received this epistle, was angry; and he wrote another epistle unto Moroni, and these are the words which he wrote, saying:

What should we learn from Ammoron’s anger here?  Is it justified?

The idea of including a letter written by a political enemy in the sacred record (and we haven’t even gotten to the matter of its contents yet!) is pretty radical.  Why do you think it was included?  What are we to learn from it?

16 I am Ammoron, the king of the Lamanites; I am the brother of Amalickiah whom ye have murdered. Behold, I will avenge his blood upon you, yea, and I will come upon you with my armies for I fear not your threatenings.

I think we should probably interpret the naming as part of their letter-writing conventions (which, admittedly, we don’t know for sure what was normal for them), but I suspect that the “whom ye have murdered” was included to make a point.

17 For behold, your fathers did wrong their brethren, insomuch that they did rob them of their right to the government when it rightly belonged unto them.

What specific incident do you think Ammoron is talking about here–the original Nephite-Lamanite split?  Or the Amalickiah story, or something in between?  (Keeping in mind that Ammoron is a fairly recent apostate from the Nephites.)

18 And now behold, if ye will lay down your arms, and subject yourselves to be governed by those to whom the government doth rightly belong, then will I cause that my people shall lay down their weapons and shall be at war no more.

What’s interesting about this verse is that it shows us the counter-point to Moroni’s frequent claim that the Lamanites would keep them in bondage and change their government and take their liberty.  From the Lamanite perspective, that’s giving the government back to the people that it rightly belonged to.

Why do you think Ammoron offers a peace settlement here instead of engaging the issue from Moroni’s letter, which was the prisoner exchange?

19 Behold, ye have breathed out many threatenings against me and my people; but behold, we fear not your threatenings.

Did Moroni threaten him?  If so, was Moroni right to do so?

20 Nevertheless, I will grant to exchange prisoners according to your request, gladly, that I may preserve my food for my men of war; and we will wage a war which shall be eternal, either to the subjecting the Nephites to our authority or to their eternal extinction.

Are you surprised to see Moroni’s request being granted here?

21 And as concerning that God whom ye say we have rejected, behold, we know not such a being; neither do ye; but if it so be that there is such a being, we know not but that he hath made us as well as you.

 

Again, it is most interesting to have the theological musings of an enemy included in the sacred record.  Why was this done?

Note that the end of this verse–with the idea that God created all people–is actually true.  What do you learn from that?  Is Ammoron mis-applying this idea, or what?  How does he think that it serves his argument?

22 And if it so be that there is a devil and a hell, behold will he not send you there to dwell with my brother whom ye have murdered, whom ye have hinted that he hath gone to such a place? But behold these things matter not.

Did Moroni hint that Amalickiah was in hell?

23 I am Ammoron, and a descendant of Zoram, whom your fathers pressed and brought out of Jerusalem.

Do you think Ammoron’s genealogical information is accurate here or is it folkloric?

Why does Ammoron mention his link to Zoram?

So . . . is it fair to say that Zoram didn’t have a whole lot of choice in the issue of whether to join Lehi’s party (see 1 Nephi 4:31-37)?

24 And behold now, I am a bold Lamanite; behold, this war hath been waged to avenge their wrongs, and to maintain and to obtain their rights to the government; and I close my epistle to Moroni.

What do you learn about boldness from this verse?

CHAPTER 55

1 Now it came to pass that when Moroni had received this epistle he was more angry, because he knew that Ammoron had a perfect knowledge of his fraud; yea, he knew that Ammoron knew that it was not a just cause that had caused him to wage a war against the people of Nephi.

Again with the anger!  What is the message here about anger?  Is Moroni’s anger justified?  (Is anger ever justified?)

How does Moroni know what Ammoron does or does not know?  (In other words, is it accurate that Ammoron was faking and, if so, how would Moroni even know that?)

Given that Ammoron has agreed entirely to Moroni’s proposal to exchange prisoners (at a ratio that benefits Moroni), why is Moroni’s first and only response anger?  What does that tell you about Moroni?

2 And he said: Behold, I will not exchange prisoners with Ammoron save he will withdraw his purpose, as I have stated in my epistle; for I will not grant unto him that he shall have any more power than what he hath got.

 

To whom is Moroni speaking here, and why don’t we know that?  (Is the fact that this is a speech to an unknown audience significant, given that the last chapter consisted of epistles with a very clear audience?)

What is Ammoron’s purpose to which Moroni refers here:  the complete destruction of the Nephites?  Or something else?  (What I am really unclear on is how the phrase “as I have stated in my epistle” relates here.)

Why does Moroni refuse here to accept the terms of the agreement that he himself had proposed?  (Is this just the anger talking?)  The “for I will not . . .” explanation almost makes this sound like a “d’oh!” moment for Moroni–he proposed the prisoner exchange, but when he realizes that it will work in Ammoron’s favor (because Ammoron will lose a whole family of mouths to feed and prisoners to guard for every one person that Moroni loses), he wants to back out of the deal.  What’s the best way to understand what is happening here?  Did Moroni mess up because he was angry, or what?

3 Behold, I know the place where the Lamanites do guard my people whom they have taken prisoners; and as Ammoron would not grant unto me mine epistle, behold, I will give unto him according to my words; yea, I will seek death among them until they shall sue for peace.

But wasn’t Ammoron willing to grant unto him the terms of his epistle?

If we weren’t talking about this story and I told you that General A proposed a prisoner exchange and then General B agreed to it but then General A changed his mind when he realized that he’d get the short end of the stick and then General A decided to “steal” his prisoners back anyway and then kill General B’s troops until they asked for a peace settlement, you might not have a very high opinion of General A.  Given that General A is Moroni, how do you interpret this story?

I thought Moroni was grumpy about the fact that the prisoner exchange was going to work to Ammoron’s benefit logistically, but if Moroni goes in and “steals” his prisoners, then Moroni will end up having to feed ALL of the POWs.  So why did this plan make sense to him?

We frequently note that Moroni doesn’t suffer from bloodlust, but does the last part of this verse (“I will seek .  . .”) begin to move in that direction?

4 And now it came to pass that when Moroni had said these words, he caused that a search should be made among his men, that perhaps he might find a man who was a descendant of Laman among them.

Why does Moroni want an actual descendant of Laman?  (Do you think at this stage in their history, over 500 years out, people actually know who is a descendant of whom, or is this more family tradition/folklore?)

Do you find it curious that Moroni is at war with the Lamanites but hasn’t bothered (before this point) to identify any descendants of Laman who might be in his midst?

5 And it came to pass that they found one, whose name was Laman; and he was one of the servants of the king who was murdered by Amalickiah.

What are we to make of the fact that his name was Laman?  (Other than the fact that it would have made him really easy to find–hahah.)  There is a tradition of their kings being named Laman–I wonder if that is relevant here.  (My thought is that perhaps he had–or could have claimed to have had–some claim on the right to Lamanite kingship.  But maybe that is a stretch.)

Is the presumption that this Laman was or was not part of the military at this time?

6 Now Moroni caused that Laman and a small number of his men should go forth unto the guards who were over the Nephites.

Is this a stratagem?  If so, why isn’t it identified as such?

7 Now the Nephites were guarded in the city of Gid; therefore Moroni appointed Laman and caused that a small number of men should go with him.

 

8 And when it was evening Laman went to the guards who were over the Nephites, and behold, they saw him coming and they hailed him; but he saith unto them: Fear not; behold, I am a Lamanite. Behold, we have escaped from the Nephites, and they sleep; and behold we have taken of their wine and brought with us.

So, I’m getting contradictory messages here as to whether Laman “looked like” a Lamanite.  On the one hand, presumably the reason Moroni wanted a descendant of Laman was so the person could pass for a Lamanite.  (But then why wouldn’t a descendant of Lemuel do?)  But the “hailing him” in this verse, which initially seems to be a neutral phrase, seems later to be an indication of suspicion because Laman responds to it with his “fear not” and “I’m a Lamanite, I swear!” statements.  Maybe their fear is just because an unknown person was approaching at night, and didn’t have anything to do with Laman’s appearance.  Nonetheless, the passage here seems to reflect the idea that Lamanites and Nephites are physically distinguishable and, presumably, by more than clothing, or Moroni could have just dressed someone up.  But this doesn’t seem to mesh with other parts of the BoM that describe people being easily assimilated into the Lamanites or the Nephites just because they chose to join them.

9 Now when the Lamanites heard these words they received him with joy; and they said unto him: Give us of your wine, that we may drink; we are glad that ye have thus taken wine with you for we are weary.

10 But Laman said unto them: Let us keep of our wine till we go against the Nephites to battle. But this saying only made them more desirous to drink of the wine;

Why would this make them have a greater desire than they had before?  (Does the reminder of impending battle drive them to drink?  haha)

11 For, said they: We are weary, therefore let us take of the wine, and by and by we shall receive wine for our rations, which will strengthen us to go against the Nephites.

12 And Laman said unto them: You may do according to your desires.

Why were verses 10-12 included in the record?  (Was the point to reveal the character of Laman, or what?)

Is this a stratagem?  (I suspect that the announcement of the wine, followed by its initial refusal, made it all the more desirable to the Lamanites.)  Brant Gardner suggests that there was some reverse psychology at work here.

13 And it came to pass that they did take of the wine freely; and it was pleasant to their taste, therefore they took of it more freely; and it was strong, having been prepared in its strength.

14 And it came to pass they did drink and were merry, and by and by they were all drunken.

Note that this is the second time the phrase “by and by,” which is normally pretty rare, is used in the space of just a few verses.  (Note that, contrary to current usage, “by and by” used to mean “immediately.”)  By contrast, the Gospel of Mark is known for its frequent use of the word “immediately”  [which is not always obvious in English], which gives the narrative the quality of rushing to its conclusion.  Is that the case here?

15 And now when Laman and his men saw that they were all drunken, and were in a deep sleep, they returned to Moroni and told him all the things that had happened.

They have to be pretty close in proximity, no?

16 And now this was according to the design of Moroni. And Moroni had prepared his men with weapons of war; and he went to the city Gid, while the Lamanites were in a deep sleep and drunken, and cast in weapons of war unto the prisoners, insomuch that they were all armed;

Surely it is a “stratagem” to get enemy guards drunk, no?

This isn’t the first time in the BoM that we’ve escaped after getting the guards drunk–compare Mosiah 22:10 (that’s the people of Limhi). What can you learn from comparing these stories?

There’s something interesting about the way that this story is told–we know that Moroni wanted a Lamanite, but we don’t know that he had the rest of the incident all planned out until after it happens.  So we need to re-think this story not as happenstance or Laman’s plotting, but as a scheme that Moroni came up with.  So:  What does this story teach you about Moroni?

17 Yea, even to their women, and all those of their children, as many as were able to use a weapon of war, when Moroni had armed all those prisoners; and all those things were done in a profound silence.

So apparently that threat to arm the women and children wasn’t so empty.  (I think we all assumed that it would be in direct fighting, but he armed the POWs instead.)  This certainly feels like poetic justice by this point.  In fact, one wonders if it was the process of exchanging letters with Ammoron that gave him the idea.

I wonder if we might draw a useful comparison between these people (who aren’t really named as a group, making them into just generic Nephites) and the people of Ammon, where the men, women, and children have different roles from each other (men:  covenant not to fight, women:  teach children, children:  fight).  Remember that the people of Ammon were Lamanites who willingly left their home to live among the Nephites, while these Nephites were forced to live among the Lamanites (as POWs) but are now about to head home.

I like “profound” as a modifier to “silence,” especially in a situation where a bunch of kids were just given weapons!  (There is no way on earth my boys would be silent–profoundly or otherwise–in a similar situation.)
18 But had they awakened the Lamanites, behold they were drunken and the Nephites could have slain them.

19 But behold, this was not the desire of Moroni; he did not delight in murder or bloodshed, but he delighted in the saving of his people from destruction; and for this cause he might not bring upon him injustice, he would not fall upon the Lamanites and destroy them in their drunkenness.

 

V17-19 put a very interesting spin on this story:  they were not profoundly silent because the situation required it–they could have whooped, woken up the Lamanites, and killed the Lamanites.  No problem.  They were silent so they could avoid the need to kill the Lamanites.

Interesting that our narrator says it would be an “injustice” to kill the Lamanites in this situation if it could be avoided.

Note that Moroni must have planned and warned everyone about the need for quiet, to avoid the need to take the lives of the Lamanites, before the plan was put into effect. I’ve been harping on his frequent displays of anger (and, on that note, notice that he isn’t taking his rage against Ammoron out on relatively innocent Lamanite guards here), but this verse shows him as a compassionate person who is a good planner.

I have also harped on Moroni for killing people who refused to enter an oath not to fight or who refused to take up arms on the Nephite side.  This incident makes an interesting comparison to those stories–clearly, Moroni valued human life highly here.  There’s also an interesting comparison with v4 in this chapter–that looks more like bluster and less like bloodlust when we compare it with what Moroni actually ended up doing.

20 But he had obtained his desires; for he had armed those prisoners of the Nephites who were within the wall of the city, and had given them power to gain possession of those parts which were within the walls.

21 And then he caused the men who were with him to withdraw a pace from them, and surround the armies of the Lamanites.

22 Now behold this was done in the night-time, so that when the Lamanites awoke in the morning they beheld that they were surrounded by the Nephites without, and that their prisoners were armed within.

23 And thus they saw that the Nephites had power over them; and in these circumstances they found that it was not expedient that they should fight with the Nephites; therefore their chief captains demanded their weapons of war, and they brought them forth and cast them at the feet of the Nephites, pleading for mercy.

24 Now behold, this was the desire of Moroni. He took them prisoners of war, and took possession of the city, and caused that all the prisoners should be liberated, who were Nephites; and they did join the army of Moroni, and were a great strength to his army.

You kind of feel bad for Moroni ending up with even more POWs to take care of here.

A wooden reading of this verse would imply that women and children joined the army (because of the “all the prisoners” line), but I doubt that was actually the case.

25 And it came to pass that he did cause the Lamanites, whom he had taken prisoners, that they should commence a labor in strengthening the fortifications round about the city Gid.

26 And it came to pass that when he had fortified the city Gid, according to his desires, he caused that his prisoners should be taken to the city Bountiful; and he also guarded that city with an exceedingly strong force.

27 And it came to pass that they did, notwithstanding all the intrigues of the Lamanites, keep and protect all the prisoners whom they had taken, and also maintain all the ground and the advantage which they had retaken.

Have we read about anything that would constitute “the intrigues of the Lamanites”?  (I can’t think of any, but I can think of a few things that would constitute Nephite intrigues.)  Or is it the next several verses that describe these intrigues, and this is sort of a summary statement given before the details are presented?

28 And it came to pass that the Nephites began again to be victorious, and to reclaim their rights and their privileges.

Can you determine what triggered the turning point for them?  Is there divine intervention here? Are they succeeding now because of their righteousness?

29 Many times did the Lamanites attempt to encircle them about by night, but in these attempts they did lose many prisoners.

Does this verse mean that the Lamanites lost prisoners or the Nephites lost prisoners?  Either way, how exactly did that happen?

30 And many times did they attempt to administer of their wine to the Nephites, that they might destroy them with poison or with drunkenness.

I suppose it should have been expected that they would try what the Nephites had done successfully–we saw the same thing with the use of cloth body armor.  Still, it’s kind of funny.

Is it significant that the Lamanites up the ante with not just drunkenness but poison here?

31 But behold, the Nephites were not slow to remember the Lord their God in this their time of affliction. They could not be taken in their snares; yea, they would not partake of their wine, save they had first given to some of the Lamanite prisoners.

Does this verse imply that those who remember God will be protected?

So it seems that using the Lamanites as cupbearers would have protected them from the poison, but not the drunkenness.

I find it interesting that the solution to the Lamanites threat is, on the one hand, described in very spiritual terms, but, on the other hand, described as the extremely practical business of having the Lamanites test the wine.  I think modern Mormonism (and, perhaps even moreso, 19th century Mormonism) really has this kind of spiritual-temporal interweaving down.

In a sense, I think the note at the end of this story that the Lamanites adopted the Nephite tactics, but found that they didn’t work, undermines the entire chapter if we had thought we were reading evidence of Moroni’s brilliant plans.  In other words, the Lamanite experience with the failed plans shows us that it wasn’t the brilliance of the plans but the faithfulness of the people that was the deciding factor.

32 And they were thus cautious that no poison should be administered among them; for if their wine would poison a Lamanite it would also poison a Nephite; and thus they did try all their liquors.

Why is this verse in the record?  I mean, honestly, did our writer think that we might not have been able to figure this out on our own?  (My thought here:  a pre-modern worldview, with magic and ritual and superstition and the whole nine yards, might not have taken it as a given that what would poison one person would poison another.  But I’m just guessing here.)

33 And now it came to pass that it was expedient for Moroni to make preparations to attack the city Morianton; for behold, the Lamanites had, by their labors, fortified the city Morianton until it had become an exceeding stronghold.

Interesting, again, to see the Lamanites adopting Nephite military strategy–in this case, the extreme fortification of cities.

34 And they were continually bringing new forces into that city, and also new supplies of provisions.

35 And thus ended the twenty and ninth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.

CHAPTER 56

1 And now it came to pass in the *commencement of the thirtieth year of the reign of the judges, on the second day in the first month, Moroni received an epistle from Helaman, stating the affairs of the people in that quarter of the land.

Why do we get such detailed information about the date here?  (It is generally accepted that, for example, in the Gospel of Mark, specific date information is meant to emphasize the importance of certain events.  Is that the case here?)  Note that it seems particularly odd to give specific information about the date on which a letter was received.

Once again, we need to grapple with the somewhat odd role Helaman plays in the BoM:  he is the leader of the church, now a military leader, but not the star of the story.  That job goes to Moroni.  This is a huge shift from earlier in the book of Alma, where Alma was the star and military events were second fiddle.  This chapter is particularly odd in that it tells of an event where Helaman plays a huge role, but this verse frames that event with Moroni as the star–because he is the one who receives and reads the letter!  (Even the dating points not to the date when the event happened, but the date when Moroni learned about it–as if Moroni’s knowledge of the event were more central than the event itself!)  This is deeply weird.

2 And these are the words which he wrote, saying: My dearly beloved brother, Moroni, as well in the Lord as in the tribulations of our warfare; behold, my beloved brother, I have somewhat to tell you concerning our warfare in this part of the land.

I’m not sure what the phrase “as well in the Lord . . . warfare” is supposed to be doing.  Is it Helaman wishing Moroni well?  Is it Helaman saying he is doing well?  Something else?

I read this to say that Helaman is ranked under Moroni.  (Maybe all of you had already assumed that.)  Interesting that the leader of the church would come in to the military at anything but the highest rank.

3 Behold, two thousand of the sons of those men whom Ammon brought down out of the land of Nephi—now ye have known that these were descendants of Laman, who was the eldest son of our father Lehi;

Unless I forgot something, this is the first time we have heard that the people of Ammon were descendants of Laman.  Why is that idea significant at this point of the story, but not earlier?  Is this fact at all related to the fact that the last chapter made a big point of the idea that Moroni wanted to send a descendant of Laman to get the Lamanite guards drunk?

Why would Helaman feel the need to identify Laman as “the eldest son of our father Lehi” in a letter to Moroni?  Presumably, Moroni already knows this!  (Contrast the next verse, where Helaman acknowledges that Moroni is clear on the situation.)

4 Now I need not rehearse unto you concerning their traditions or their unbelief, for thou knowest concerning all these things—

5 Therefore it sufficeth me that I tell you that two thousand of these young men have taken their weapons of war, and would that I should be their leader; and we have come forth to defend our country.

Did Moroni already know this?  (I think the contrast of v4 with v5 implies that maybe Moroni didn’t know this already.  If so, one wonders what he made of it.)  I wonder if we might think of Helaman’s army as “irregular troops” even in the sense of being outside of Moroni’s knowledge/control.

6 And now ye also know concerning the covenant which their fathers made, that they would not take up their weapons of war against their brethren to shed blood.

Do you find it odd that these parents did not teach their children to make and keep the same covenant that they did?  (Can you think of another situation in scripture that is similar?)  We’re about to have a big to-do about what their mothers knew and taught them; note that all of that happens against the backdrop of what their parents did not teach them–to make the same covenant that they did.  (I would also wonder about the gender dynamic–is it fair to say that the teaching role of the mothers is emphasized because the fathers were incapable of transmitting what they were not themselves doing?  This is doubly odd, since we usually associate women with pacifism and men with war, but we have the opposite dynamic here.)

7 But in the twenty and sixth year, when they saw our afflictions and our tribulations for them, they were about to break the covenant which they had made and take up their weapons of war in our defence.

Again, is this new info for Moroni?  If not, then why reiterate it?  (I suspect that Moroni was not aware of the existence of the army of Helaman until he got this letter.)

8 But I would not suffer them that they should break this covenant which they had made, supposing that God would strengthen us, insomuch that we should not suffer more because of the fulfilling the oath which they had taken.

Interesting that Helaman thought that the solution would be divine intervention, but the solution was new muscle (which, of course, might reflect divine intervention indirectly).  One wonders if Helaman knew about the time when the ANLs were slaughtered by the Lamanites because they refused to take up arms–it certainly does not seem to be the case that God strengthened them then.

9 But behold, here is one thing in which we may have great joy. For behold, in the *twenty and sixth year, I, Helaman, did march at the head of these two thousand young men to the city of Judea, to assist Antipus, whom ye had appointed a leader over the people of that part of the land.

10 And I did join my two thousand sons, (for they are worthy to be called sons) to the army of Antipus, in which strength Antipus did rejoice exceedingly; for behold, his army had been reduced by the Lamanites because their forces had slain a vast number of our men, for which cause we have to mourn.

What do you learn from Helaman about family relationships in this verse?

I find the “sons” thing interesting and I wonder if it is some sort of a commentary on the “real” dads of these boys (not necessarily negative, but still).

Notice the interesting interplay of joy and mourning in this verse.

11 Nevertheless, we may console ourselves in this point, that they have died in the cause of their country and of their God, yea, and they are happy.

Interesting juxtaposition between this and the stories that we about to get about the striplings’ lives being preserved.  Point:  it’s all good!

12 And the Lamanites had also retained many prisoners, all of whom are chief captains, for none other have they spared alive. And we suppose that they are now at this time in the land of Nephi; it is so if they are not slain.

This is interesting, because it means that the Lamanites did not have a consistent policy.  (In the last chapter, remember, they also kept Nephite women and children as POWs.)  V18 makes this doubly interesting, because it shows that these varying policies were carried out by groups that were in communication with each other.

13 And now these are the cities of which the Lamanites have obtained possession by the shedding of the blood of so many of our valiant men;

14 The land of Manti, or the city of Manti, and the city of Zeezrom, and the city of Cumeni, and the city of Antiparah.

15 And these are the cities which they possessed when I arrived at the city of Judea; and I found Antipus and his men toiling with their might to fortify the city.

16 Yea, and they were depressed in body as well as in spirit, for they had fought valiantly by day and toiled by night to maintain their cities; and thus they had suffered great afflictions of every kind.

17 And now they were determined to conquer in this place or die; therefore you may well suppose that this little force which I brought with me, yea, those sons of mine, gave them great hopes and much joy.

Why does Helaman use the word “little” here?

18 And now it came to pass that when the Lamanites saw that Antipus had received a greater strength to his army, they were compelled by the orders of Ammoron to not come against the city of Judea, or against us, to battle.

19 And thus were we favored of the Lord; for had they come upon us in this our weakness they might have perhaps destroyed our little army; but thus were we preserved.

So interesting that you could look at this turn of event as “Ammoron saw our strength and therefore decided to lay off,” and Helaman does that to a certain extent, but he also chooses to describe this as being favored of the Lord.  We’ve seen this a few other times–we are given the immediate cause of an event (or:  a pragmatic, physical, or logistical cause) but we are told that the Lord was behind it.  I think one of the big themes of the war chapters is that the presence of an immediate cause should not be interpreted to mean that there was no ultimate cause.

20 They were commanded by Ammoron to maintain those cities which they had taken. And thus ended the twenty and sixth year. And in the *commencement of the twenty and seventh year we had prepared our city and ourselves for defence.

 

Notice the year markers in the middle of this letter.  This is the same kind of marker we find organizing most of the book of Alma, which leads me to wonder if most of Mormon’s source material for this book was letters, based on shared use of the same dating convention.  If that is the case, it suggests some different ways that we might want to interpret earlier parts of Alma, and it also raises the question of why this chapter (and the one before) kept the epistle format explicit instead of working the material into the narrative.

21 Now we were desirous that the Lamanites should come upon us; for we were not desirous to make an attack upon them in their strongholds.

How does this verse relate to everything we’ve heard about Moroni not desiring bloodshed/warfare?  How does it relate to only responding on the third offense (let alone not attacking)?  Or does Helaman have a different theory of justified warfare than Moroni does?

22 And it came to pass that we kept spies out round about, to watch the movements of the Lamanites, that they might not pass us by night nor by day to make an attack upon our other cities which were on the northward.

23 For we knew in those cities they were not sufficiently strong to meet them; therefore we were desirous, if they should pass by us, to fall upon them in their rear, and thus bring them up in the rear at the same time they were met in the front. We supposed that we could overpower them; but behold, we were disappointed in this our desire.

This is very interesting–they knew certain cities were not strong enough, but contrast v21–they still wanted the attack.  Also, one wonders why they did not strengthen the cities.

Does the end of this verse point to Helaman’s weakness/insecurity/error as a military leader, or is there a better way to interpret it?

24 They durst not pass by us with their whole army, neither durst they with a part, lest they should not be sufficiently strong and they should fall.

It is interesting to see the Lamanite army “outthinking” the Nephite army here–usually, in the war chapters, we get to crow when just the opposite happens.  Again, is this meant to point to Helaman’s weaknesses as a military leader?

25 Neither durst they march down against the city of Zarahemla; neither durst they cross the head of Sidon, over to the city of Nephihah.

26 And thus, with their forces, they were determined to maintain those cities which they had taken.

27 And now it came to pass in the second month of this year, there was brought unto us many provisions from the fathers of those my two thousand sons.

You have to wonder how the fathers felt here:  to bring equipment to your sons, who were fighting because you had made the decision not to fight, must have been very heart-rending.

Note again the hint of tension in “fathers of . . . my sons.”  Did Helaman feel that tension?  Did the fathers?

We get very focused on the mothers of the striplings (I think because we want so desperately to find women in the BoM) that it is easy not to think about their dads.  But note the interesting gender inversion here:  the women provide the moral instruction and the men provide the casseroles and the quilts.

There’s enough ambiguity here that it is not clear to me if the fathers actually come and bring the provisions, or if provisions that the fathers have gathered are brought to the field of battle by other people.  How might that issue nuance how you read this verse?  (My thought is that if the fathers did not personally come, then it is very interesting to wonder why the mothers are not also mentioned as gatherers-of-provisions.)

Is it fair to say that the fathers have switched from providing monetary support to the entire Nephite army (in exchange for not having to serve in the military themselves) to provisioning their sons?  If so, is there anything useful that we can conclude from this shift?

28 And also there were sent two thousand men unto us from the land of Zarahemla. And thus we were prepared with ten thousand men, and provisions for them, and also for their wives and their children.

So presumably there were 6000 men when Helaman got there.  Helaman brings 2000 and now 2000 more come.  One wonders why we don’t get any details about these men from Z.

The reference to wives and children is very interesting.  The wording is also a little ambiguous, but I think the idea is that they had enough provisions for the wives and children.  Also, I think  that the striplings are too young for wives and children (see v46), so we’re talking about the families of the other 8000 soldiers here.  Why are these women and children mentioned here?

29 And the Lamanites, thus seeing our forces increase daily, and provisions arrive for our support, they began to be fearful, and began to sally forth, if it were possible to put an end to our receiving provisions and strength.

One wonders if the fathers were taking the risk of accidentally getting caught up in a battle here.

30 Now when we saw that the Lamanites began to grow uneasy on this wise, we were desirous to bring a stratagem into effect upon them; therefore Antipus ordered that I should march forth with my little sons to a neighboring city, as if we were carrying provisions to a neighboring city.

Note that Antipus–not Helaman–is shown as the brains behind the operation here.

31 And we were to march near the city of Antiparah, as if we were going to the city beyond, in the borders by the seashore.

 

32 And it came to pass that we did march forth, as if with our provisions, to go to that city.

33 And it came to pass that Antipus did march forth with a part of his army, leaving the remainder to maintain the city. But he did not march forth until I had gone forth with my little army, and came near the city Antiparah.

34 And now, in the city Antiparah were stationed the strongest army of the Lamanites; yea, the most numerous.

35 And it came to pass that when they had been informed by their spies, they came forth with their army and marched against us.

36 And it came to pass that we did flee before them, northward. And thus we did lead away the most powerful army of the Lamanites;

37 Yea, even to a considerable distance, insomuch that when they saw the army of Antipus pursuing them, with their might, they did not turn to the right nor to the left, but pursued their march in a straight course after us; and, as we suppose, it was their intent to slay us before Antipus should overtake them, and this that they might not be surrounded by our people.

38 And now Antipus, beholding our danger, did speed the march of his army. But behold, it was night; therefore they did not overtake us, neither did Antipus overtake them; therefore we did camp for the night.

39 And it came to pass that before the dawn of the morning, behold, the Lamanites were pursuing us. Now we were not sufficiently strong to contend with them; yea, I would not suffer that my little sons should fall into their hands; therefore we did continue our march, and we took our march into the wilderness.

Are you reading allegorically here?  Is there a moral to this story?  Or is this just necessary background for the coming story?  Or is it meant to reveal the character of the people involved?  Or . . . is this just here so the mothers of the stripling soldiers can have heart attacks?

This is so interesting–we usually think of the striplings as having a divine bubble of protection around them, but at their first possible battle, they go hide in the wilderness because they know that they can’t contend with the Lamanites.  What’s the message here?

40 Now they durst not turn to the right nor to the left lest they should be surrounded; neither would I turn to the right nor to the left lest they should overtake me, and we could not stand against them, but be slain, and they would make their escape; and thus we did flee all that day into the wilderness, even until it was dark.

41 And it came to pass that again, when the light of the morning came we saw the Lamanites upon us, and we did flee before them.

Once again, this seems like a terrible start to the military career of Helaman’s army, as they flee from the enemy.  Had we suspected from the beginning that they were an unfit bunch with a poor leader, we might see this turn of events as evidence that we were right.

42 But it came to pass that they did not pursue us far before they halted; and it was in the morning of the third day of the seventh month.

Is the timing significant here?

43 And now, whether they were overtaken by Antipus we knew not, but I said unto my men: Behold, we know not but they have halted for the purpose that we should come against them, that they might catch us in their snare;

44 Therefore what say ye, my sons, will ye go against them to battle?

This is most interesting–it is certainly not normal procedure for military leaders in the ancient world to turn their operations into democracies and let the enlisted men vote on the battle plans!  And remember that the striplings chose Helaman as their leader–he wasn’t appointed from the outside.  Why does their military unit have this unusual leadership scheme?  What might we learn from it?  Or, is this not a genuine decision, but sort of a pro forma solicitation for a battle cry?

Why does Helaman seek their input at this point, when, previously they have hidden or ran away from the situation (without, presumably, calling a vote on the matter first)?

45 And now I say unto you, my beloved brother Moroni, that never had I seen so great courage, nay, not amongst all the Nephites.

Do you read this as hyperbole?  Or genuine?  If genuine, it is worth remembering that these people have just been identified earlier in the chapter as the descendants of Laman, so even though they are second-generation converts, it is still a pretty big deal to say that they have more courage than any Nephites have ever had.  It reminds me of the superlatives regarding the faith and love of the Lamanite converts.  In fact, I think you could make the case that the majority (maybe even all?) of the positive superlatives in the BoM are bestowed on Lamanites.

Note that there is quite a gap between Helaman (who, when he was in charge, had his men flee and hide) and the stripling warriors (who decide that they want to fight).  The courage of the striplings in the next few verses should be contrasted with the position of Helaman–which is all the more remarkable when Helaman is the one recounting the story!

46 For as I had ever called them my sons (for they were all of them very young) even so they said unto me: Father, behold our God is with us, and he will not suffer that we should fall; then let us go forth; we would not slay our brethren if they would let us alone; therefore let us go, lest they should overpower the army of Antipus.

Compare verse 10:  “my two thousand sons, (for they are worthy to be called sons).”  I find it interesting that the issue of Helaman referring to the striplings as sons was worthy of not one but two asides, each one with a different rationale.

Is the idea that if God is with you then you will not fall in battle a universal truth?  If not, how did they know that it would apply in their situation?

Is this a rebuke of Helaman’s actions up to this point?  (If so, it is certainly nuanced by the fact that the striplings chose him as a leader–and are now bossing him around.)

47 Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.

Note that when we were introduced to the striplings, we were told that they were true, but apparently they had shown that truth in venues other than battle.

I’m wondering if we might read the first phrase with a different edge to it–something along the lines of “they didn’t quite know what they were getting themselves into.”

Similarly, “they did think more upon the liberty of their own fathers . . . lives” is an interesting comment to make when their own fathers had made a decision never to fight, regardless of the consequences to their own families.

Note the contrast between the fathers and the mothers in this verse–what do you learn from it?

What is this verse teaching about doubt and deliverance?  How does that compare with other scriptures that see more room for doubt, such as Mark 9:24-27?  What role does doubt play in your own life?  What role should it play?  Is doubt incompatible with deliverance?

Contextualizing what their mothers had taught them:  remember that their mothers were converts who had left the Lamanites and moved to a new land to practice their new faith.  Their husbands had all vowed never to defend their families, no matter what.  Does this context impact how you interpret the mothers’ teachings about doubt and deliverance?

Does “deliver” here refer to being delivered in battle, or being delivered from Satan?  (I think we usually think that the striplings think that they will win the battle.  I’m not sure if that is what they thought.  We know that they did not fear death–is that because they didn’t think death was a possibility, or because they realized that it was not the worst possible outcome?  The verse could have said “they didn’t fear the Lamanites” or “they didn’t fear death,” but that isn’t what it says.)  (See 57:25-26 for more on this.)  Also remember that these women witnessed (or, at least, heard about) Alma 24:22 (“And thus without meeting any resistance, they did slay athousand and five of them; and we know that they are blessed, for they have gone to dwell with their God.”) and so their words need to be interpreted against that background.  So was this a universal principle, or a promise unique to this situation (which is interesting because it implies that the mothers had had revelations for their children), or what?

Eugene England on the mothers of the stripling warriors:

Helaman thus paid one of the greatest compliments in all scripture to those courageous women who had once faced death in passive acceptance in order to stop bloodshed—but had given their sons the valiant faith to face death as well in active resistance to bloodshed.  Citation

What I like most about England’s observation is that he points to the real difficulty of what the mothers had to do:  not just transmit faith to the next generation, but prepare their children to live lives radically different from their own, but just as faithful.  We like to pretend that nothing ever changes in the Church, but the reality is that every generation faces different challenges that require a different response.  Teaching a faithful response to different circumstances is very difficult, but somehow these mothers (new converts and ethnic minorities all) pulled it off.

48 And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it.

Skousen reads “our mothers knew” with no “it” after.  This reading is attested by the original manuscript and the printer’s manuscript.  If I am reading his notes at the end of The Bom:  The Earliest Text correctly, “it” didn’t show up until the 1920 edition.   This may be the most significant textual variant in the entire BoM, especially given the weight we place on this verse to say everything we want to say about motherhood.  The reading without the “it” is a much stronger one, inasmuch as it doesn’t limit the mothers to knowing one thing (that is, whatever we think the “it” refers to), but instead makes a more general statement about the mothers’ knowledge/testimony.

Interesting that they would recite what their mothers had taught them to Helaman.

How I wish Helaman had included the mothers’ words in the record.

Brant Gardner points out that the mothers’ faith is very similar to the basic Nephite promise (“if you keep the commandments, you will be preserved”).  If that is correct, it is very interesting that their personal experiences (which were very much non-Nephite) led them to the same faith as the Nephites.  (It kind of reminds me of how Rahab reenacts the blood on the doorposts with her red thread–ending up in the same spiritual place as the Israelites despite her very different [!] starting point.)

Crazy idea:  What if “we do not doubt our mothers do it” is the actual words that the mothers said to the striplings?  In this case, it would point to the testimony of the striplings’ grandmothers, and their mothers’ faith in those words.  I think the grammar of this verse allows for that reading; I’m not sure if the history of the conversion of the ANLs allows for it.

What is the “it” that the mothers knew?

The cynic asks:  Why don’t they have their own testimony of “it”?  Why are they relying on their mothers’ testimony?

How does the reference to doubt in this verse relate to the reference to doubt in the previous verse?

Obviously, there are very few references to women in the BoM.  This is one of the major ones.  Why are they mentioned here?  (It would have been very easy for Helaman to write this letter and have it make sense and leave out the reference to the mothers.)  It has also been noted that virtually all references to women in the BoM are to Lamanite women, not to Nephite women.  Why might this be?  Does it point to cultural differences, or what?

Consider what the view is here of God’s role in history.  Do we have that same view?  Should we?

H. Burke Peterson:

It seems more than a coincidence to me that when mention is made of all who could be counted as being responsible for the great valor and spirit of these 2,000 young men, the recorder felt impressed to mention only the training by their mothers. Many others might have been mentioned—mothers were. The fact that mothers are one of the keys and secrets to the strength of the Aaronic Priesthood would lead me to believe that more time must be spent by priesthood leaders in training girls in proper priesthood principles, that future Aaronic Priesthood generations might be as blessed as were Helaman’s 2,000 sons. It is evident that the brethren of the priesthood are spending a great deal of their time and effort in planning ways to affect the character and spirituality of the priesthood boys. This must continue. However, only a small fraction of this effort is put into the priesthood education and spiritual development of the girls. How can we expect in them as fine a product if we do not give them an increase in attention? Unless girls have had a model and know what priesthood qualities to look for in an eternal companion, the consequences may be that many families in generations to come will suffer because of wrong marriage choices. This need not be if priesthood brethren will be the appropriate models and give more earnest understanding and energy to the training of the girls. Apr 1976 GC

Now, you will perhaps not be surprised to hear that I see a very problematic potential in that quotation, but at the same time, I think it is a powerful statement of the necessity of teaching all of the youth everything, without gender disparity.  That statement also opens up room for women, including young women, to exercise an important role in judging and shaping the behavior of males.

Eugene England on the stripling soldiers:

This was an unlikely army, young men raised by parents whose resolute pacifism was part of their most sacred commitments, led by a church leader turned military captain. But their story proves that, contrary to the wisdom of men, they are the very type of army the Lord can best accept and make effective in battle—while still protecting them from the soul-destroying evil of bloodlust.  Citation

49 And it came to pass that I did return with my two thousand against these Lamanites who had pursued us. And now behold, the armies of Antipus had overtaken them, and a terrible battle had commenced.

50 The army of Antipus being weary, because of their long march in so short a space of time, were about to fall into the hands of the Lamanites; and had I not returned with my two thousand they would have obtained their purpose.

Note that we are in the pretty unusual situation of having the testimony of women (and outsider women at that, given their Lamanite heritage) changing the tide of a battle.

Does knowing this change how you interpret Helaman’s fleeing, hiding, and asking the striplings what they want to do?  (In other words, could all of this have been avoided if he had exercised bravery in the first place?)  (See also v51 for the consequences of the delay.)

51 For Antipus had fallen by the sword, and many of his leaders, because of their weariness, which was occasioned by the speed of their march—therefore the men of Antipus, being confused because of the fall of their leaders, began to give way before the Lamanites.

52 And it came to pass that the Lamanites took courage, and began to pursue them; and thus were the Lamanites pursuing them with great vigor when Helaman came upon their rear with his two thousand, and began to slay them exceedingly, insomuch that the whole army of the Lamanites halted and turned upon Helaman.

Note that Helaman is referred to in the third person here.  This is pretty weird, since the last time we checked, he was writing a letter to Moroni.  Presumably, some middle section of the letter was abridged, hence the third person reference.  (I suppose it is also remotely possible that there was some Nephite letter writing convention that allowed people to refer to themselves in the third person.)

53 Now when the people of Antipus saw that the Lamanites had turned them about, they gathered together their men and came again upon the rear of the Lamanites.

Notice how faith/courage is contagious:  from the mothers, to the sons, to the people of Antipus.

54 And now it came to pass that we, the people of Nephi, the people of Antipus, and I with my two thousand, did surround the Lamanites, and did slay them; yea, insomuch that they were compelled to deliver up their weapons of war and also themselves as prisoners of war.

And now we shift back from the third person to “we” and “I.”

Note that Helaman takes prisoners of war here–not like when Moroni offered the “take a peace oath or die” offer.

55 And now it came to pass that when they had surrendered themselves up unto us, behold, I numbered those young men who had fought with me, fearing lest there were many of them slain.

56 But behold, to my great joy, there had not one soul of them fallen to the earth; yea, and they had fought as if with the strength of God; yea, never were men known to have fought with such miraculous strength; and with such mighty power did they fall upon the Lamanites, that they did frighten them; and for this cause did the Lamanites deliver themselves up as prisoners of war.

Why “as if” here?

What does “the strength of God” mean?

Is the “never were . . .” line hyperbole?

Notice that several superlative statements in the BoM (about faith, etc.) are addressed to people with Lamanite heritage.  Is this significant?

So . . . why did the people of Antipus have casualties–did they not have the strength of God or miraculous strength?  If this was the case, why?

57 And as we had no place for our prisoners, that we could guard them to keep them from the armies of the Lamanites, therefore we sent them to the land of Zarahemla, and a part of those men who were not slain of Antipus, with them; and the remainder I took and joined them to my stripling Ammonites, and took our march back to the city of Judea.

Note that even though he cannot take care of these POWs, he doesn’t offer the “peace or death” oath that Moroni does.  Why the policy difference?

Remember that the striplings, when we met them, announced that they were Nephites.  Is it then significant that Helaman calls them Ammonites here?

CHAPTER 57

1 And now it came to pass that I received an epistle from Ammoron, the king, stating that if I would deliver up those prisoners of war whom we had taken that he would deliver up the city of Antiparah unto us.

Interesting that both Moroni and Helaman got letters from Ammoron asking about prisoner exchanges.  (Does this point to a lack of coordination on the Nephites’ part–contrast the fact that Ammoron was calling the shots for the entire Lamanite operation?  I wonder if there is any undercurrent of tension between Helaman and Moroni as to who is actually in charge.)  Note that Ammoron offers Helaman a city in exchange, not other prisoners.  (Note that, according to v2, apparently Helaman did have prisoners that could have been exchanged.)

2 But I sent an epistle unto the king, that we were sure our forces were sufficient to take the city of Antiparah by our force; and by delivering up the prisoners for that city we should suppose ourselves unwise, and that we would only deliver up our prisoners on exchange.

We don’t get Helaman’s epistle, but it is interesting to think of how it might have compared to Moroni’s.  I’m betting it wasn’t as angry–no “child of hell” here.

Is it moral for Helaman to plan on fighting for a city (and therefore risking life and limb) when he had an opportunity to trade for it?

I presume “on exchange” means that Ammoron has some of Helaman’s people (or perhaps other Nephites) as POWs.  If that is the case, then shouldn’t his point in this verse be “I want my people back” instead of “I can get that city without your help”?

Remember the contrast with Moroni’s negotiations with Ammoron over prisoners:  Ammoron wanted 1 for 1, Moroni wanted a family for 1.  Ammoron here wants people for a city; Helaman offers people for people.  Is there something we can learn from this interesting contrast?

3 And Ammoron refused mine epistle, for he would not exchange prisoners; therefore we began to make preparations to go against the city of Antiparah.

Why was Ammoron willing to exchange with Moroni on these terms, but not Helaman?  Are we supposed to be learning something about Ammoron’s character from this?

4 But the people of Antiparah did leave the city, and fled to their other cities, which they had possession of, to fortify them; and thus the city of Antiparah fell into our hands.

So Moroni had a similar situation.  (And that’s interesting in and of itself, because it is one more data point on a long list of ways that we can compare Moroni and Helaman.  Another way to put that:  one more reason to believe that Mormon wants us to compare Moroni and Helaman.)  So what do we make of the fact that we got the long story about how Moroni prepared his people (by arming them over the city wall) and, here, the escape seems to just happen?  (Is this more evidence for the idea that Helaman is passive?  But how interesting it is that the same results occur despite his passivity.  Or, can the story be abridged this time because we’ve already had the extended dance mix version and so we know how the details play out?)

5 And thus ended the twenty and eighth year of the reign of the judges.

So remember that we are in the middle of a letter.  I find it interesting that we get these year markers in that letter.  It makes me wonder if these markers, which exist in most of the book of Alma, indicate that letters were the underlying source for the material.  I realize that that is pretty speculative, but if it were true, how might it change how you interpret the material in this section of the BoM?  Also, why do we get the whole letter in this case (although, as noted above, it appears to be abridged in at least one place, and that’s why we get the shift to 3rd person when talking about Helaman)?

6 And it came to pass that in the *commencement of the twenty and ninth year, we received a supply of provisions, and also an addition to our army, from the land of Zarahemla, and from the land round about, to the number of six thousand men, besides sixty of the sons of the Ammonites who had come to join their brethren, my little band of two thousand. And now behold, we were strong, yea, and we had also plenty of provisions brought unto us.

Is it significant that Helaman seems to use “Ammonites” instead of “people of Ammon”?

What’s the story behind these 60 sons?  Did they finally become old enough to fight, or is there some other reason that they are joining up now and not earlier?

What does “little” mean in this verse?  Why does that seem to be Helaman’s preferred term for the stripling soldiers?

Note how significant provisions are to Helaman’s story; Moroni never (?) mentions them.

7 And it came to pass that it was our desire to wage a battle with the army which was placed to protect the city Cumeni.

How does this statement mesh with the “no bloodlust” and “no offensive wars” principles of the BoM?

8 And now behold, I will show unto you that we soon accomplished our desire; yea, with our strong force, or with a part of our strong force, we did surround, by night, the city Cumeni, a little before they were to receive a supply of provisions.

9 And it came to pass that we did camp round about the city for many nights; but we did sleep upon our swords, and keep guards, that the Lamanites could not come upon us by night and slay us, which they attempted many times; but as many times as they attempted this their blood was spilt.

10 At length their provisions did arrive, and they were about to enter the city by night. And we, instead of being Lamanites, were Nephites; therefore, we did take them and their provisions.

The phrasing here cracks me up:  “we, instead of being Lamanites, were Nephites.”  :)

 

11 And notwithstanding the Lamanites being cut off from their support after this manner, they were still determined to maintain the city; therefore it became expedient that we should take those provisions and send them to Judea, and our prisoners to the land of Zarahemla.

12 And it came to pass that not many days had passed away before the Lamanites began to lose all hopes of succor; therefore they yielded up the city unto our hands; and thus we had accomplished our designs in obtaining the city Cumeni.

13 But it came to pass that our prisoners were so numerous that, notwithstanding the enormity of our numbers, we were obliged to employ all our force to keep them, or to put them to death.

How does “enormity of our numbers” relate to the “little” band above?

14 For behold, they would break out in great numbers, and would fight with stones, and with clubs, or whatsoever thing they could get into their hands, insomuch that we did slay upwards of two thousand of them after they had surrendered themselves prisoners of war.

So here, Helaman is doing what Moroni did in terms of killing POWs, with the difference that these POWs were fighting back.

Normally, after a military victory in the BoM, the defeated enemy is surprisingly docile.  Why wasn’t that the case here?

15 Therefore it became expedient for us, that we should put an end to their lives, or guard them, sword in hand, down to the land of Zarahemla; and also our provisions were not any more than sufficient for our own people, notwithstanding that which we had taken from the Lamanites.

It is unclear why the provisions would be inadequate when they had captured the Lamanite provisions as well as the Lamanites.  This may point to the beginning of the problems that the Nephites are having with maintaining their own provisions.

16 And now, in those critical circumstances, it became a very serious matter to determine concerning these prisoners of war; nevertheless, we did resolve to send them down to the land of Zarahemla; therefore we selected a part of our men, and gave them charge over our prisoners to go down to the land of Zarahemla.

I get the impression from this that Helaman agonized a little more over the issue of killing POWs than Moroni did.

I am a little unclear in this section as to whether/when Helaman killed which group of POWs.  It seems a little contradictory on the face of the story, but I suspect it is because different groups of people and/or different times are being mentioned.  I think the best way to read it is that Helaman did not approve of killing POWs–even when the POWs were fighting back–and so he made the decision to transport them even though it would be at great cost to his fighting force.  This makes for quite the stark contrast with Moroni, who seems to be much more willing to kill POWs.  So this is another data point in the contrast between Helaman and Moroni.  In fact, it is sort of interesting that in this story, Helaman’s passivity appears to be an asset in the sense that he is less aggressive than Moroni, and therefore there is a greater preservation of human life.

It is a pretty big deal that Helaman is willing to substantially reduce his fighting force in order to avoid the need to kill POWs (and not just any POWs, but rebellious, still-fighting POWs at that).  The miraculous turn of events that we are about to see will be necessary in order to save Helaman’s bacon (or, you know, the kosher equivalent thereof).  So is the moral of the story that when you try to preserve life, God will preserve you?

17 But it came to pass that on the morrow they did return. And now behold, we did not inquire of them concerning the prisoners; for behold, the Lamanites were upon us, and they returned in season to save us from falling into their hands. For behold, Ammoron had sent to their support a new supply of provisions and also a numerous army of men.

Again, notice how frequently provisions play into the story.

18 And it came to pass that those men whom we sent with the prisoners did arrive in season to check them, as they were about to overpower us.

19 But behold, my little band of two thousand and sixty fought most desperately; yea, they were firm before the Lamanites, and did administer death unto all those who opposed them.

Had this ended poorly, we almost certainly would have blamed Helaman for his decision to send a big number of his troops to relocate the rebellious Lamanite POWs instead of keeping his force intact and just killing the POWs.  So the accomplishment of the striplings (whether we are giving credit to them or to God) needs to be viewed against the backdrop of the decision to show mercy to the POWs.

Are we supposed to see a contrast between Helaman, who went out of his way to preserve the lives of the Lamanites, and these soldiers who “administer death to all who oppose them”?

20 And as the remainder of our army were about to give way before the Lamanites, behold, those two thousand and sixty were firm and undaunted.

21 Yea, and they did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness; yea, and even according to their faith it was done unto them; and I did remember the words which they said unto me that their mothers had taught them.

The idea of the striplings obeying here is very interesting, because we have seen them previously choosing Helaman and choosing to go into battle, not following orders.  (Not to say that they disobeyed orders, just to say that, before this, they had actually taken the lead.)

What was “done unto them”?  (I’m having a hard time figuring out what that phrase means.)

Interesting to picture Helaman in the middle of a battle so ferocious that he didn’t have time to get a report from the people who had just returned so quickly from transporting the prisoners, but he does have time to remember and ponder what the boys said their mothers had taught them.

This verse really shatters our stereotype of women as peace-loving, inasmuch as we are supposed to see this ferocious battle as being motivated by the teaching of women.  (Relevant tangent:  my husband used to teach my son’s Primary class.  One day the boy asked what the lesson would be about.  My husband said that he was going to bring in a bear cub for the kids to play with for a few minutes and then he was going to bring in the mother bear.  He said that the lesson was about a mother’s love.)

Is there a link between following the (military) commands with exactness and following what their mothers had taught them?

22 And now behold, it was these my sons, and those men who had been selected to convey the prisoners, to whom we owe this great victory; for it was they who did beat the Lamanites; therefore they were driven back to the city of Manti.

Note how Helaman here attributes the victory to human causes.  (Of course, that is a little complicated by the fact that the sons were motivated by faith.)

What do you make of the fact that Helaman chose to focus on the story of the striplings and not the story of the returned-from-transporting-the-Lamanites-POWs soldiers here?

23 And we retained our city Cumeni, and were not all destroyed by the sword; nevertheless, we had suffered great loss.

24 And it came to pass that after the Lamanites had fled, I immediately gave orders that my men who had been wounded should be taken from among the dead, and caused that their wounds should be dressed.

25 And it came to pass that there were two hundred, out of my two thousand and sixty, who had fainted because of the loss of blood; nevertheless, according to the goodness of God, and to our great astonishment, and also the joy of our whole army, there was not one soul of them who did perish; yea, and neither was there one soul among them who had not received many wounds.

Remember above when they did not doubt that if they had faith God would deliver them?  So why are they astonished here that no one died?  (My thought:  the deliverance was not survival in battle; the deliverance was from hell.  So they are astonished here that no one died, because they didn’t assume that that would be the case.)  (See also v26 on this.)

Note how, contrast v22, their survival is attributed to divine and not human causes.

Note also that every single soldier received many wounds, and that the verse emphasizes that.  I think you could make the point that even people who are faithful and enjoy God’s protection are not spared from the many wounds of life, even to the point of fainting from loss of blood and appearing dead.

26 And now, their preservation was astonishing to our whole army, yea, that they should be spared while there was a thousand of our brethren who were slain. And we do justly ascribe it to the miraculous power of God, because of their exceeding faith in that which they had been taught to believe—that there was a just God, and whosoever did not doubt, that they should be preserved by his marvelous power.

Again, note the attribution to divine protection here in contrast with v22.

Why “justly” here?

This is the first time “that there was a just God” is included in the ideas of what they had been taught to believe–previously, the emphasis was on doubting.  Why is this included here (but not before)?

Why is this the third time we are told that they had been taught not to doubt?  (And, what exactly was it that they had been taught not to doubt–that God exists?  Or something else?)

Is it safe to assume that the striplings had more faith/obedience/whatever than the other Nephite soldiers who were killed in battle?  (It seems to be what this verse is saying.)

27 Now this was the faith of these of whom I have spoken; they are young, and their minds are firm, and they do put their trust in God continually.

What does it mean to have a firm mind?  How does this mesh with the idea of being teachable?  (Is there a bit of a paradox there?)

What does it actually look like to trust God?

What is this verse teaching about youth and faith?  What lesson is there for us in this?

28 And now it came to pass that after we had thus taken care of our wounded men, and had buried our dead and also the dead of the Lamanites, who were many, behold, we did inquire of Gid concerning the prisoners whom they had started to go down to the land of Zarahemla with.

Note that they bury the enemy dead.  (Not an expert here, but I think this is fairly rare, no?)

We are given a reason why they didn’t ask about these soldiers (namely, they were in the middle of a battle when they returned), but on a narrative level, it is still the case that the story of the miraculous preservation of the striplings is sandwiched in between references to these soldiers.  Are we supposed to learn anything from that structure?

29 Now Gid was the chief captain over the band who was appointed to guard them down to the land.

30 And now, these are the words which Gid said unto me: Behold, we did start to go down to the land of Zarahemla with our prisoners. And it came to pass that we did meet the spies of our armies, who had been sent out to watch the camp of the Lamanites.

31 And they cried unto us, saying—Behold, the armies of the Lamanites are marching towards the city of Cumeni; and behold, they will fall upon them, yea, and will destroy our people.

32 And it came to pass that our prisoners did hear their cries, which caused them to take courage; and they did rise up in rebellion against us.

33 And it came to pass because of their rebellion we did cause that our swords should come upon them. And it came to pass that they did in a body run upon our swords, in the which, the greater number of them were slain; and the remainder of them broke through and fled from us.

So is the moral of the story that it wasn’t worth the effort to try to transport the prisoners instead of just killing them?  Is this a reflection on Helaman’s poor leadership?  (In other words, he was a bleeding heart who tried to save the lives of rebellious prisoners instead of killing them.  And not only did this not work, as he ended up having to kill most of them anyway, but he seriously jeopardized the rest of his army by diverting its strength.)  Are we supposed to be drawing a moral lesson from this story, or are we just supposed to be impressed with the striplings and let everything else fade into the background?  How does it nuance our interpretation of the story of the stripings to have their success happen against the backdrop of this story?

Why is this story included in the record?

34 And behold, when they had fled and we could not overtake them, we took our march with speed towards the city Cumeni; and behold, we did arrive in time that we might assist our brethren in preserving the city.

35 And behold, we are again delivered out of the hands of our enemies. And blessed is the name of our God; for behold, it is he that has delivered us; yea, that has done this great thing for us.

The next verse makes clear that this verse is Gid speaking.

Gid’s summary statement here is fascinating, because he could have said something like, “Because you, Helaman, were unwilling to exercise legitimate authority, we ended up with a big stinking mess on our hands.”  Gid is truly one of the unsung heroes in the BoM for being a glass-entirely-full kind of guy when he is presented with this situation.

36 Now it came to pass that when I, Helaman, had heard these words of Gid, I was filled with exceeding joy because of the goodness of God in preserving us, that we might not all perish; yea, and I trust that the souls of them who have been slain have entered into the rest of their God.

Does Helaman’s reaction to this turn of events surprise you?  What might you learn from it?

Should Helaman have been more self-reflective here?  Or does he see the upshot as suggesting that God managed to make everything work out despite the mistakes (were they mistakes?) that he made?

CHAPTER 58

1 And behold, now it came to pass that our next object was to obtain the city of Manti; but behold, there was no way that we could lead them out of the city by our small bands. For behold, they remembered that which we had hitherto done; therefore we could not decoy them away from their strongholds.

Remember that we are still in the middle of Helaman’s letter to Moroni.

Why does he say “small bands” here when, in the last chapter, he said they were exceedingly numerous?

Note that the Lamanites are often outmaneuvered once, but they learn and don’t make the same mistake twice.

2 And they were so much more numerous than was our army that we durst not go forth and attack them in their strongholds.

 

3 Yea, and it became expedient that we should employ our men to the maintaining those parts of the land which we had regained of our possessions; therefore it became expedient that we should wait, that we might receive more strength from the land of Zarahemla and also a new supply of provisions.

Skousen reads “retained” instead of “regained” here.

 

Again with the provisions.

4 And it came to pass that I thus did send an embassy to the governor of our land, to acquaint him concerning the affairs of our people. And it came to pass that we did wait to receive provisions and strength from the land of Zarahemla.

Skousen reads “great” before “governor” here.

5 But behold, this did profit us but little; for the Lamanites were also receiving great strength from day to day, and also many provisions; and thus were our circumstances at this period of time.

This is pretty surprising, given that they are on Nephite, not Lamanite turf, but the Lamanites are able to do a better job resupplying their troops.

6 And the Lamanites were sallying forth against us from time to time, resolving by stratagem to destroy us; nevertheless we could not come to battle with them, because of their retreats and their strongholds.

7 And it came to pass that we did wait in these difficult circumstances for the space of many months, even until we were about to perish for the want of food.

This is a big deal–they are slowly starving to death.

8 But it came to pass that we did receive food, which was guarded to us by an army of two thousand men to our assistance; and this is all the assistance which we did receive, to defend ourselves and our country from falling into the hands of our enemies, yea, to contend with an enemy which was innumerable.

Is the 2000 significant here?

The Lamanites were not literally innumerable.  I assume this is hyperbole, to emphasize their desperate situation, especially in contrast to the 2000 (a limited number) who brought them food.  That said, 2000 men could bring a lot of food, no?

9 And now the cause of these our embarrassments, or the cause why they did not send more strength unto us, we knew not; therefore we were grieved and also filled with fear, lest by any means the judgments of God should come upon our land, to our overthrow and utter destruction.

This is the only time the word “embarrassments” is used in the scriptures.

I thought they were all of the conviction that if they didn’t doubt, God had their backs.  Why are they talking about the judgments of God in this verse and fearing destruction?  What’s going on here?  Are they losing faith?  Is there some sin in the background that we are not being told about?  Is the point being made that it is easier to be valiant in battle than during slow starvation?

We’ll want to compare this verse, which is Helaman’s reaction to a lack of proper supplies, with that of Moroni, when he writes his letter to Pahoran.  We will see that they are rather different . . .

10 Therefore we did pour out our souls in prayer to God, that he would strengthen us and deliver us out of the hands of our enemies, yea, and also give us strength that we might retain our cities, and our lands, and our possessions, for the support of our people.

This verse starts to look like a rebuke of Moroni:  when Helaman is faced with lack of provisions, he prays.  When Moroni is faced with lack of provisions, he writes a hot-tempered letter.

11 Yea, and it came to pass that the Lord our God did visit us with assurances that he would deliver us; yea, insomuch that he did speak peace to our souls, and did grant unto us great faith, and did cause us that we should hope for our deliverance in him.

How literally do you take “visit” here?

Does the assurance of deliverance mean that they hadn’t doubted–or that they had?

I love the idea of speaking peace.

What does it suggest to you about faith to say that faith is something that can be granted to you by the Lord?

12 And we did take courage with our small force which we had received, and were fixed with a determination to conquer our enemies, and to maintain our lands, and our possessions, and our wives, and our children, and the cause of our liberty.

Presumably the striplings don’t have wives and children–interesting to think about this as a more global reference to “all of the women and children in the community” as opposed to “my specific wife and children.”

13 And thus we did go forth with all our might against the Lamanites, who were in the city of Manti; and we did pitch our tents by the wilderness side, which was near to the city.

14 And it came to pass that on the morrow, that when the Lamanites saw that we were in the borders by the wilderness which was near the city, that they sent out their spies round about us that they might discover the number and the strength of our army.

15 And it came to pass that when they saw that we were not strong, according to our numbers, and fearing that we should cut them off from their support except they should come out to battle against us and kill us, and also supposing that they could easily destroy us with their numerous hosts, therefore they began to make preparations to come out against us to battle.

16 And when we saw that they were making preparations to come out against us, behold, I caused that Gid, with a small number of men, should secrete himself in the wilderness, and also that Teomner and a small number of men should secrete themselves also in the wilderness.

17 Now Gid and his men were on the right and the others on the left; and when they had thus secreted themselves, behold, I remained, with the remainder of my army, in that same place where we had first pitched our tents against the time that the Lamanites should come out to battle.

18 And it came to pass that the Lamanites did come out with their numerous army against us. And when they had come and were about to fall upon us with the sword, I caused that my men, those who were with me, should retreat into the wilderness.

19 And it came to pass that the Lamanites did follow after us with great speed, for they were exceedingly desirous to overtake us that they might slay us; therefore they did follow us into the wilderness; and we did pass by in the midst of Gid and Teomner, insomuch that they were not discovered by the Lamanites.

20 And it came to pass that when the Lamanites had passed by, or when the army had passed by, Gid and Teomner did rise up from their secret places, and did cut off the spies of the Lamanites that they should not return to the city.

21 And it came to pass that when they had cut them off, they ran to the city and fell upon the guards who were left to guard the city, insomuch that they did destroy them and did take possession of the city.

22 Now this was done because the Lamanites did suffer their whole army, save a few guards only, to be led away into the wilderness.

I suppose if we wanted to, we could pull out a moral about not being sufficiently prepared, or about relying too much on the testimony of our own eyes, or about allowing ourselves to be weak in the face of adversity.

23 And it came to pass that Gid and Teomner by this means had obtained possession of their strongholds. And it came to pass that we took our course, after having traveled much in the wilderness towards the land of Zarahemla.

Why do you think this story was included in the record?  (Maybe just to give the striplings’ moms heart attacks?)

24 And when the Lamanites saw that they were marching towards the land of Zarahemla, they were exceedingly afraid, lest there was a plan laid to lead them on to destruction; therefore they began to retreat into the wilderness again, yea, even back by the same way which they had come.

This is kind of funny–the Lamanties are afraid that Helaman’s army is pulling the same trick twice, but Helaman’s army is bluffing.

25 And behold, it was night and they did pitch their tents, for the chief captains of the Lamanites had supposed that the Nephites were weary because of their march; and supposing that they had driven their whole army therefore they took no thought concerning the city of Manti.

26 Now it came to pass that when it was night, I caused that my men should not sleep, but that they should march forward by another way towards the land of Manti.

27 And because of this our march in the night-time, behold, on the morrow we were beyond the Lamanites, insomuch that we did arrive before them at the city of Manti.

So is there a moral of the story here?  Are we supposed to be learning something from Helaman’s fake-them-out battle tactics?  

28 And thus it came to pass, that by this stratagem we did take possession of the city of Manti without the shedding of blood.

I think one lesson that we might draw from this is that numerical superiority is not the deciding factor.  (I think in the 90s, some church members went through a slightly ugly phase of boasting about church growth.  Stories like this–or the half dozen people at the founding of the church–remind us that truth is not in numbers.)

29 And it came to pass that when the armies of the Lamanites did arrive near the city, and saw that we were prepared to meet them, they were astonished exceedingly and struck with great fear, insomuch that they did flee into the wilderness.

30 Yea, and it came to pass that the armies of the Lamanites did flee out of all this quarter of the land. But behold, they have carried with them many women and children out of the land.

Why are the women and children mentioned here?

How did the Lamanites end up with women and children?   Are these Nephite or Lamanite women and children?  (I think the next verse implies that it is Nephite people.) What exactly happened?  And why would an army take women and children with it, anyway?  (Just for bargaining purposes?  Because it seems like it would seriously hamper their abilities.)

This chapter seems to be a long string of Lamanite intelligence (in the sense of military intelligence, not of smarts) failures.  Is that the theme here?  If so, what should we learn from it?  (I think the cynic could perhaps make some points about “lying for the Lord” or deceiving people for a greater good.)

31 And those cities which had been taken by the Lamanites, all of them are at this period of time in our possession; and our fathers and our women and our children are returning to their homes, all save it be those who have been taken prisoners and carried off by the Lamanites.

Why the repetition on the women and children?  Why mention the fathers in this verse but not the previous one?

32 But behold, our armies are small to maintain so great a number of cities and so great possessions.

33 But behold, we trust in our God who has given us victory over those lands, insomuch that we have obtained those cities and those lands, which were our own.

34 Now we do not know the cause that the government does not grant us more strength; neither do those men who came up unto us know why we have not received greater strength.

One wonders if the striplings thought about the covenant that prevented their fathers from fighting at this point.

How is it possible that the people who came to them didn’t know about the coup?

Note Helaman’s frank acknowledgement of his lack of knowledge here; contrast it with Moroni’s assured (-ly wrong) stance in his letter.  Once again, I think we are invited to compare and contrast Helaman and Moroni and see Helaman as, yes, a passive character, but in some situations, that is preferable to Moroni’s forcefulness.  (At least Helaman is less likely to be wrong!)

35 Behold, we do not know but what ye are unsuccessful, and ye have drawn away the forces into that quarter of the land; if so, we do not desire to murmur.

What do you learn about murmuring from this section?

Once again, note Helaman’s extreme caution and careful consideration of a variety of scenarios, especially as contrasted with Moroni’s (wrong) conclusion that Pahoran is a jerk.  (The contrast is especially striking given that Moroni has all of this careful, tentative consideration from Helaman when he writes his letter.)

36 And if it is not so, behold, we fear that there is some faction in the government, that they do not send more men to our assistance; for we know that they are more numerous than that which they have sent.

We’re about to get to Moroni’s really mean and really wrong-headed letter to Pahoran.  Why didn’t Moroni pay more attention to Helaman’s warning that the problem might be “some faction in the government” and not Pahoran himself?  

37 But, behold, it mattereth not—we trust God will deliver us, notwithstanding the weakness of our armies, yea, and deliver us out of the hands of our enemies.

What do you learn from Helaman here about the proper role of complaining versus just relying on God to work everything out for you?

38 Behold, this is the twenty and ninth year, in the latter end, and we are in the possession of our lands; and the Lamanites have fled to the land of Nephi.

39 And those sons of the people of Ammon, of whom I have so highly spoken, are with me in the city of Manti; and the Lord has supported them, yea, and kept them from falling by the sword, insomuch that even one soul has not been slain.

40 But behold, they have received many wounds; nevertheless they stand fast in that liberty wherewith God has made them free; and they are strict to remember the Lord their God from day to day; yea, they do observe to keep his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments continually; and their faith is strong in the prophecies concerning that which is to come.

Note that every time the striplings are mentioned, we learn a little more about their beliefs.  We started with their lack of doubt, then we learned more, now we learn about their belief in prophecies.

Brant Gardner points out that, in a summary statement where Helaman might have praised his leaders (like Gid), he chose instead to praise his low-level soldiers.

41 And now, my beloved brother, Moroni, may the Lord our God, who has redeemed us and made us free, keep you continually in his presence; yea, and may he favor this people, even that ye may have success in obtaining the possession of all that which the Lamanites have taken from us, which was for our support. And now, behold, I close mine epistle. I am Helaman, the son of Alma.

So I think we usually read this letter as “let me tell you about the striplings!” when I wonder if Helaman’s main point in writing was “let me beg you for provisions.”

 

Why do you think this entire letter (note that part of it seems to be abridged) was included in the record as a letter, and not just part of the abridged history?  Do you read it differently since it is a letter?

Can you determine what in this verse belongs to standard Nephite letter writing conventions and what is a unique expression of Helaman’s?

CHAPTER 59

1 Now it came to pass in the *thirtieth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, after Moroni had received and had read Helaman’s epistle, he was exceedingly rejoiced because of the welfare, yea, the exceeding success which Helaman had had, in obtaining those lands which were lost.

Interesting that this is the narrated reaction, when the end of the letter described a pretty dire situation.  Especially given Moroni’s penchant for anger, are you surprised that his first response to that letter was joy?

Why are we so frequently given information about people’s emotions in the BoM?  (I’m having a hard time imagining a historian of the church writing today focusing on how President Monson felt about various events, know what I mean?)  (I suppose that the presentation of emotions does focus as an important indicator to the reader as to how she should interpret the material.  For example, the point here seems to be:  You should have been happy about the way things turned out in Helaman’s letter.  This does, as I mentioned, present some tension to the reader, since she might have been very, very worried about the near-starved state of Helaman’s army at the end of the letter.)

2 Yea, and he did make it known unto all his people, in all the land round about in that part where he was, that they might rejoice also.

Who are “his people”?  Does it just mean the military?  Or is Moroni a (de facto?) civil leader at this point, speaking to the general population?

Why was this verse included in the record?  (We have very little about “the people” in this part of the BoM.)

There are also King Ben-ish overtones to this mass meeting.

Brant Gardner points out that this verse almost certainly includes the striplings’ mothers finding out about the success and safety of their sons.

3 And it came to pass that he immediately sent an epistle to Pahoran, desiring that he should cause men to be gathered together to strengthen Helaman, or the armies of Helaman, insomuch that he might with ease maintain that part of the land which he had been so miraculously prospered in regaining.

Skousen reads “retaining” instead of “regaining” here.

Why does Moroni think that Pahoran will respond to him when Pahoran didn’t respond to Helaman?

4 And it came to pass when Moroni had sent this epistle to the land of Zarahemla, he began again to lay a plan that he might obtain the remainder of those possessions and cities which the Lamanites had taken from them.

5 And it came to pass that while Moroni was thus making preparations to go against the Lamanites to battle, behold, the people of Nephihah, who were gathered together from the city of Moroni and the city of Lehi and the city of Morianton, were attacked by the Lamanites.

6 Yea, even those who had been compelled to flee from the land of Manti, and from the land round about, had come over and joined the Lamanites in this part of the land.

7 And thus being exceedingly numerous, yea, and receiving strength from day to day, by the command of Ammoron they came forth against the people of Nephihah, and they did begin to slay them with an exceedingly great slaughter.

8 And their armies were so numerous that the remainder of the people of Nephihah were obliged to flee before them; and they came even and joined the army of Moroni.

Skousen reads “came over” instead of “came even” here.

9 And now as Moroni had supposed that there should be men sent to the city of Nephihah, to the assistance of the people to maintain that city, and knowing that it was easier to keep the city from falling into the hands of the Lamanites than to retake it from them, he supposed that they would easily maintain that city.

Skousen omits “than to retake it from them.”

10 Therefore he retained all his force to maintain those places which he had recovered.

11 And now, when Moroni saw that the city of Nephihah was lost he was exceedingly sorrowful, and began to doubt, because of the wickedness of the people, whether they should not fall into the hands of their brethren.

Sorrow is a new emotion for Moroni . . .

Does “began to doubt” have any relation to the repeated references to doubting in the striplings’ story?

Does Moroni see military success as a barometer for societal righteousness?  Should he?  (Isn’t it obvious that their problems are caused by the lack of provisions from the government?  Or is the assumption that, if everyone involved were righteous, they would be getting the proper provisions from the government, which means that the lack of provisions is, in fact, an indicator of a lack of righteousness?)

12 Now this was the case with all his chief captains. They doubted and marveled also because of the wickedness of the people, and this because of the success of the Lamanites over them.

13 And it came to pass that Moroni was angry with the government, because of their indifference concerning the freedom of their country.

References to Moroni’s anger have almost become comically predictable.  What is accomplished by describing Moroni so frequently as an angry man?  What effect does it have on the reader?  (My thought:  we are supposed to see him, perhaps, as someone who keeps his actions in check despite his anger, not in the absence of anger.)

In what ways is it significant that this chapter begins with joy and ends with anger?

The narrator says “because of indifference,” but we are about to find out that that isn’t in fact the case.  (Unless by government, you mean the kingmen.  In that sense, it is true, but it means something the audience and Moroni can’t know yet.)

CHAPTER 60

1 And it came to pass that he wrote again to the governor of the land, who was Pahoran, and these are the words which he wrote, saying: Behold, I direct mine epistle to Pahoran, in the city of Zarahemla, who is the chief judge and the governor over the land, and also to all those who have been chosen by this people to govern and manage the affairs of this war.

Alma 59:3 mentions a letter from Moroni to Pahoran on this topic, explaining the ‘again” in this verse.  As far as we can tell, that letter was unanswered.  I really wish we had that first letter–it would be interesting to see how it differs from this one.

Remember as you begin reading this letter than Moroni is completely off-base:  Pahoran is a victim, not the perpetrator, of the problem of lack of provisions, because he has lost his position in a coup.

2 For behold, I have somewhat to say unto them by the way of condemnation; for behold, ye yourselves know that ye have been appointed to gather together men, and arm them with swords, and with cimeters, and all manner of weapons of war of every kind, and send forth against the Lamanites, in whatsoever parts they should come into our land.

Note the contrast between how tentative Helaman was (see 58:35, 36) in his complaint, versus Moroni here.  What should we learn from the contrast?  (Again, this is particularly significant given that we know that Moroni has read Helaman’s letter, so he’s been exposed to the idea that this problem might not be Pahoran’s fault.  He chooses in this letter to completely ignore that possibility.  I think it would be fair to see Moroni as not only exercising poor judgment in jumping to conclusions in blaming Pahoran, but also being out-of-sync with his religious leaders in that he didn’t model Helaman’s restraint in jumping to conclusions about the cause of the lack of provisions.  In other words, there’s nothing about this chapter that makes Moroni look good.)

Brant Gardner points out that this isn’t a request for a larger chunk of a standing army, but men who are not part of a standing army.

3 And now behold, I say unto you that myself, and also my men, and also Helaman and his men, have suffered exceedingly great sufferings; yea, even hunger, thirst, and fatigue, and all manner of afflictions of every kind.

Interesting that we don’t really hear about the suffering of Moroni’s people until this point.  I think we could almost read this as saying that Moroni was willing to tolerate privation when it was just him, but hearing about Helaman’s privations sent him over the edge.  (That does put a different nuance on to his anger, if it was not triggered by his own situation but by Helaman’s.)  (But another way to read this section is that he already wrote to Pahoran about his own situation and this letter is about Helaman’s.)

4 But behold, were this all we had suffered we would not murmur nor complain.

Does this verse mean that this letter is or is not murmuring/complaining?  (I think it is important to define these terms.  I’m not sure that we automatically know what they mean.)

Really?  Didn’t Helaman do precisely this in his letter?  And shouldn’t the complain in the government was negligently withholding supplies from them and causing them to suffer?

5 But behold, great has been the slaughter among our people; yea, thousands have fallen by the sword, while it might have otherwise been if ye had rendered unto our armies sufficient strength and succor for them. Yea, great has been your neglect towards us.

Moroni has previously articulated the idea that the Lord gave the victory or the loss in battle; how can we mesh that with the idea presented here that their losses are due to human factors?

A cynic might ask:  Didn’t the Lord preserve the striplings through terrible conditions?  So, if people have fallen by the sword, wasn’t it their own darn fault for lacking faith?  Why are you blaming Pahoran, then?  (I think v11-12 addresses this kind of thinking.)

6 And now behold, we desire to know the cause of this exceedingly great neglect; yea, we desire to know the cause of your thoughtless state.

Isn’t he sort of answering his own question here, by blaming their neglect and their thoughtless state?

7 Can you think to sit upon your thrones in a state of thoughtless stupor, while your enemies are spreading the work of death around you? Yea, while they are murdering thousands of your brethren—

Again, notice the contrast between Moroni’s assumptions and Helaman’s hesitations.  What should we learn from this?

Brant Gardner points out that meso-Americans didn’t usually have chairs, let alone thrones, and so “throne” here is a word that makes sense for English speakers but probably reflect something like “dias” or “platform” in the underlying language.

8 Yea, even they who have looked up to you for protection, yea, have placed you in a situation that ye might have succored them, yea, ye might have sent armies unto them, to have strengthened them, and have saved thousands of them from falling by the sword.

It seems that Helaman’s complaint was primarily about food/provisions but Moroni’s is primarily about additional soldiers (at least until the next verse).

9 But behold, this is not all—ye have withheld your provisions from them, insomuch that many have fought and bled out their lives because of their great desires which they had for the welfare of this people; yea, and this they have done when they were about to perish with hunger, because of your exceedingly great neglect towards them.

Provisions had been a big theme for Helaman; here is becomes so for Moroni.  What I find odd about this is that we learn from this letter that Moroni was also suffering from a lack of provisions, but he doesn’t mention it (at least in our narrative) until Helaman gets the ball rolling.  What might we learn from this?

10 And now, my beloved brethren—for ye ought to be beloved; yea, and ye ought to have stirred yourselves more diligently for the welfare and the freedom of this people; but behold, ye have neglected them insomuch that the blood of thousands shall come upon your heads for vengeance; yea, for known unto God were all their cries, and all their sufferings—

11 Behold, could ye suppose that ye could sit upon your thrones, and because of the exceeding goodness of God ye could do nothing and he would deliver you? Behold, if ye have supposed this ye have supposed in vain.

So this is an interesting rebuttal of an attitude that we might have mistakenly picked up from the emphasis on divine intervention in this section of the BoM.

This is a really important point:  God’s ability to do Cool Stuff does not justify us in not doing what we should/could be doing.    Old joke, copied from some random website:

There was a man called him Jim, who lived near a river. Jim was a very religious man.One day, the river rose over the banks and flooded the town, and Jim was forced to climb onto his porch roof. While sitting there, a man in a boat comes along and tells Jim to get in the boat with him. Jim says “No, that’s ok. God will take care of me.” So, the man in the boat drives off. The water rises, so Jim climbs onto his roof. At that time, another boat comes along and the person in that one tells Jim to get in. Jim replies, “No, that’s ok. God will take care of me.” The person in the boat then leaves. The water rises even more, and Jim climbs on his chimney. Then a helicopter comes and lowers a ladder. The woman in the helicopter tells Jim to climb up the ladder and get in. Jim tells her “That’s ok.” The woman says “Are you sure?” Jim says, “Yeah, I’m sure God will take care of me. Finally, the water rises too high and Jim drowns. Jim gets up to Heaven and is face-to-face with God. Jim says to God “You told me You would take care of me! What happened?” God replied “Are you kidding me? I sent you two boats and even a helicopter. What else did you want?”

12 Do ye suppose that, because so many of your brethren have been killed it is because of their wickedness? I say unto you, if ye have supposed this ye have supposed in vain; for I say unto you, there are many who have fallen by the sword; and behold it is to your condemnation;

Once again, we might have incorrectly supposed that battle deaths = unrighteousness from this section, so this is an important correction.

13 For the Lord suffereth the righteous to be slain that his justice and judgment may come upon the wicked; therefore ye need not suppose that the righteous are lost because they are slain; but behold, they do enter into the rest of the Lord their God.

14 And now behold, I say unto you, I fear exceedingly that the judgments of God will come upon this people, because of their exceeding slothfulness, yea, even the slothfulness of our government, and their exceedingly great neglect towards their brethren, yea, towards those who have been slain.

15 For were it not for the wickedness which first commenced at our head, we could have withstood our enemies that they could have gained no power over us.

16 Yea, had it not been for the war which broke out among ourselves; yea, were it not for these king-men, who caused so much bloodshed among ourselves; yea, at the time we were contending among ourselves, if we had united our strength as we hitherto have done; yea, had it not been for the desire of power and authority which those king-men had over us; had they been true to the cause of our freedom, and united with us, and gone forth against our enemies, instead of taking up their swords against us, which was the cause of so much bloodshed among ourselves; yea, if we had gone forth against them in the strength of the Lord, we should have dispersed our enemies, for it would have been done, according to the fulfilling of his word.

Once again, we get the idea that the real problem is never the Lamanites–the real problem is always the Nephites themselves.  This verse is probably the most explicit statement of that idea in the BoM.

Given that Moroni is completely wrong to blame Pahoran in this letter, can we accept the argument made in this verse (or, really, any of the other arguments in the letter) at face value?  (In other words, I think this verse makes a true and important point that the problem wasn’t the Lamanites; the problem was the kingmen.  But I’m not sure how I can justify taking this verse as accurate fact when so much of the rest of the letter is flat-out wrong.)

17 But behold, now the Lamanites are coming upon us, taking possession of our lands, and they are murdering our people with the sword, yea, our women and our children, and also carrying them away captive, causing them that they should suffer all manner of afflictions, and this because of the great wickedness of those who are seeking for power and authority, yea, even those king-men.

Wait a minute–I thought we got rid of the king-men last week?  (See Alma 51:21.  I think we’ll need to re-evaluate that verse here–)

18 But why should I say much concerning this matter? For we know not but what ye yourselves are seeking for authority. We know not but what ye are also traitors to your country.

Doesn’t he (meaning Pahoran) already have authority?

Is there any way to read this besides a gratuitous smear against Pahoran?

19 Or is it that ye have neglected us because ye are in the heart of our country and ye are surrounded by security, that ye do not cause food to be sent unto us, and also men to strengthen our armies?

20 Have ye forgotten the commandments of the Lord your God? Yea, have ye forgotten the captivity of our fathers? Have ye forgotten the many times we have been delivered out of the hands of our enemies?

21 Or do ye suppose that the Lord will still deliver us, while we sit upon our thrones and do not make use of the means which the Lord has provided for us?

We’ll find out in the next chapter that Moroni is completely off-base in these accusations, but I’m wondering if we might consider what he does here anyway:  Is this just a temper tantrum?  Or is there something positive to learn from this?  What do you make of his approach?

I’m curious about the “we” and “our” in this verse–it makes it sound (rhetorically if not really) that Moroni is just as bad as Pahoran.  But the rest of the letter clearly does not move in that direction.  So I am left wondering why Moroni says “we” and “our” here.

Brant Gardner points to an interesting tension between v20 (where Pahoran is castigated for forgetting God) and v21 (where Moroni castigates Pahoran for assuming that God will deliver them).  How can you mesh these ideas?

22 Yea, will ye sit in idleness while ye are surrounded with thousands of those, yea, and tens of thousands, who do also sit in idleness, while there are thousands round about in the borders of the land who are falling by the sword, yea, wounded and bleeding?

Let’s no lose sight of the fact that Moroni is making completely unfounded allegations here (“ye sit in idleness”) that will turn out to be wrong.

23 Do ye suppose that God will look upon you as guiltless while ye sit still and behold these things? Behold I say unto you, Nay. Now I would that ye should remember that God has said that the inward vessel shall be cleansed first, and then shall the outer vessel be cleansed also.

Interesting–Moroni seems to be quoting scripture here, but we don’t know what he is referencing.  (There is something similar in Mt 23, but that postdates this and isn’t really that close.  There are multiple references in Leviticus to cleansing vessels, but they don’t make the inward/outer distinction.)  One wonders what the context was for the quote Moroni is using–if it were part of the law of Moses and applied to literally cleansing vessels (in which case, his application of it to people/governments is interesting) or what.

Note that the next verse with define the “inward vessel” as the head of the government.  (That isn’t how we think of the whited sepulchres of Mt23, so that’s interesting.)

24 And now, except ye do repent of that which ye have done, and begin to be up and doing, and send forth food and men unto us, and also unto Helaman, that he may support those parts of our country which he has regained, and that we may also recover the remainder of our possessions in these parts, behold it will be expedient that we contend no more with the Lamanites until we have first cleansed our inward vessel, yea, even the great head of our government.

Skousen reads “retained” instead of “regained” here.

Note that Moroni is threatening insurrection here.  (He’s put people to death for less than this.)

25 And except ye grant mine epistle, and come out and show unto me a true spirit of freedom, and strive to strengthen and fortify our armies, and grant unto them food for their support, behold I will leave a part of my freemen to maintain this part of our land, and I will leave the strength and the blessings of God upon them, that none other power can operate against them—

Is it significant that he refers to his people as “freemen” here?  (I think you could make the case that, in this letter, Moroni single-handedly resurrects the king-men and the freemen [remember that we were told that there were no more people who were called kingmen] in order to advance his agenda.)

The language about granting the epistle reminds me of the letters between Moroni and Ammoron.  If we compare this letter with that one, what do we learn?  (My flippant thought:  calling Ammoron a child of hell apparently wasn’t that big a deal for Moroni–he’s mean to everyone in letters!)

26 And this because of their exceeding faith, and their patience in their tribulations—

I find it ironic that he refers to their patience in a letter that threatens violent overthrow of the government if their demands are not met.

27 And I will come unto you, and if there be any among you that has a desire for freedom, yea, if there be even a spark of freedom remaining, behold I will stir up insurrections among you, even until those who have desires to usurp power and authority shall become extinct.

Ironic:  he’s talking about overthrowing the government as a way to get rid of people who “desire to usurp power.”

28 Yea, behold I do not fear your power nor your authority, but it is my God whom I fear; and it is according to his commandments that I do take my sword to defend the cause of my country, and it is because of your iniquity that we have suffered so much loss.

29 Behold it is time, yea, the time is now at hand, that except ye do bestir yourselves in the defence of your country and your little ones, the sword of justice doth hang over you; yea, and it shall fall upon you and visit you even to your utter destruction.

30 Behold, I wait for assistance from you; and, except ye do administer unto our relief, behold, I come unto you, even in the land of Zarahemla, and smite you with the sword, insomuch that ye can have no more power to impede the progress of this people in the cause of our freedom.

31 For behold, the Lord will not suffer that ye shall live and wax strong in your iniquities to destroy his righteous people.

32 Behold, can you suppose that the Lord will spare you and come out in judgment against the Lamanites, when it is the tradition of their fathers that has caused their hatred, yea, and it has been redoubled by those who have dissented from us, while your iniquity is for the cause of your love of glory and the vain things of the world?

Another example of Moroni answering false doctrine in this letter.  He explains that Pahoran is more guilty than the Lamanites because Pahoran should know better.  (This is an interesting idea–most people hate it when others [or other groups] play the victim card, but here, Moroni is making the point that the Lamanites have the right to play the victim card.)

33 Ye know that ye do transgress the laws of God, and ye do know that ye do trample them under your feet. Behold, the Lord saith unto me: If those whom ye have appointed your governors do not repent of their sins and iniquities, ye shall go up to battle against them.

This is interesting:  Did the Lord say this to Moroni in relation to this particular case?  (Shouldn’t the Lord have said, “Lay off Pahoran–it isn’t his fault and this letter is going to make you look really silly, my friend”?)  Or, did the Lord say this to Moroni in another context (which one would that have been?) and Moroni decided to apply it here (and, if so, what do you learn about Moroni’s [mis] application of this statement)?

34 And now behold, I, Moroni, am constrained, according to the covenant which I have made to keep the commandments of my God; therefore I would that ye should adhere to the word of God, and send speedily unto me of your provisions and of your men, and also to Helaman.

What does “constrained” mean here?  (Remember that Nephi used this word to describe the Spirit constraining him to chop off Laban’s head.)

Note that Moroni is accusing him of violating the word of God–a very serious allegation–that turns out to be completely false.

35 And behold, if ye will not do this I come unto you speedily; for behold, God will not suffer that we should perish with hunger; therefore he will give unto us of your food, even if it must be by the sword. Now see that ye fulfil the word of God.

Once again, note how Moroni leverages God in this verse in a way completely inappropriate to the situation–he claims that his position is “the word of God” and this is patently false.

36 Behold, I am Moroni, your chief captain. I seek not for power, but to pull it down. I seek not for honor of the world, but for the glory of my God, and the freedom and welfare of my country. And thus I close mine epistle.

General thoughts on this chapter:

(1) We don’t have to get very far into the next chapter to realize that this chapter is a big old “oops” moment.  Moroni goes off on Pahoran, only to find out that Moroni was mistaken and Pahoran was not the problem.  The first thing to note is that this is definitely a “warts and all” history–there’s no way someone who wanted to present a sanitized Moroni to us would ever have included this chapter in the record.  The fact that it is included not only speaks to the BoM’s approach to (ugly) history, but also suggests that we are not supposed to assume that just because Moroni did something, it was the right thing to do. (If you had been reading with that assumption, the next chapter will smack it right out of you.)  Its inclusion does raise interesting questions about why this chapter was included.  Because if space were tight, would you have devoted 36 verses (not including Pahoran’s answer in the next chapter) to a misunderstanding?

(2) Here’s my thought as to why this letter was included:  note that throughout it, Moroni mentions several misunderstandings of theological principles that might have led Pahoran to do what he did.  (Which he didn’t actually do, but never mind that right now.)  I wonder if (whoever–Moroni, Helaman, Mormon) decided to include this letter, despite its grossly mistaken premise, because it included some really important doctrinal teachings–teachings that are specifically relevant to us as readers as we try to hash out the meanings of these chapters and wonder whether we can just sit on our thrones and wait for God to deliver us.  (Let’s bracket for a minute that it is Moroni, the general, doing the doctrinal teachings and not Helaman or someone else.)

(3) I think the topic of loyalty is worth thinking about in connection with Moroni’s letter.  Perhaps the point of its inclusion in the record is simply to show that there is no sin in opposing a political figure and if you are wrong in your political opposition, it is not the end of the world.  (But even if you accept that argument, it is still difficult to countenance Moroni’s use of religious language in his opposition to Pahoran in this letter.)

CHAPTER 61

1 Behold, now it came to pass that soon after Moroni had sent his epistle unto the chief governor, he received an epistle from Pahoran, the chief governor. And these are the words which he received:

General thought:  we’ve read eight billion pages of the BoM so far without a single letter, and then all of a sudden, the letters are flying:  Ammoron to Moroni, Moroni to Ammoron, Helaman to Ammoron, Ammoron to Helaman, Helaman to Moroni, Moroni to Pahoran, and, now Pahoran to Moroni.  Why is this section of the BoM all letters?  Is there anything useful to be learned from comparing them to the letters in the NT?

Note that he got a response “soon” after he sent the letter; contrast this with the first letter, which got no response.  Do you think that Moroni’s threats of insurrection is what got the response?  (Or was it just coincidental–remember that Pahoran is not at the address to which Moroni has sent the letters.)  Or maybe something else?

2 I, Pahoran, who am the chief governor of this land, do send these words unto Moroni, the chief captain over the army. Behold, I say unto you, Moroni, that I do not joy in your great afflictions, yea, it grieves my soul.

Note that, if I were Pahoran, I would have yelled at Moroni for his false accusations against me and threats of insurrection.  Instead, Pahoran’s response it grief for Moroni’s troubles.  Pahoran is a good guy, and it may be that one of the reasons this material was included in the record is to show his character.

3 But behold, there are those who do joy in your afflictions, yea, insomuch that they have risen up in rebellion against me, and also those of my people who are freemen, yea, and those who have risen up are exceedingly numerous.

Is it significant that Pahoran seems to be avoiding using the word “king-men” in this verse?  (Any relation to Alma 51:21 here?)

Brant Gardner points out that Moroni was largely accurate in his concerns that the kingmen were causing trouble; he was just wrong in placing Pahoran on the side of the kingmen.  (And, if you think about it, that accusation doesn’t make much sense–given that Pahoran is already in charge of the government, why would he have sided with the kingmen?)

4 And it is those who have sought to take away the judgment-seat from me that have been the cause of this great iniquity; for they have used great flattery, and they have led away the hearts of many people, which will be the cause of sore affliction among us; they have withheld our provisions, and have daunted our freemen that they have not come unto you.

Are you surprised that the freemen could be “daunted”?  What exactly does that mean, anyway?

5 And behold, they have driven me out before them, and I have fled to the land of Gideon, with as many men as it were possible that I could get.

It’s actually pretty amazing that Moroni’s letter got to him!

6 And behold, I have sent a proclamation throughout this part of the land; and behold, they are flocking to us daily, to their arms, in the defence of their country and their freedom, and to avenge our wrongs.

Are you surprised that Pahoran hadn’t let Moroni know about all of this before?  (One sense I am getting is that the Lamanites have much better communications systems than the Nephites have.)

7 And they have come unto us, insomuch that those who have risen up in rebellion against us are set at defiance, yea, insomuch that they do fear us and durst not come out against us to battle.

8 They have got possession of the land, or the city, of Zarahemla; they have appointed a king over them, and he hath written unto the king of the Lamanites, in the which he hath joined an alliance with him; in the which alliance he hath agreed to maintain the city of Zarahemla, which maintenance he supposeth will enable the Lamanites to conquer the remainder of the land, and he shall be placed king over this people when they shall be conquered under the Lamanites.

9 And now, in your epistle you have censured me, but it mattereth not; I am not angry, but do rejoice in the greatness of your heart. I, Pahoran, do not seek for power, save only to retain my judgment-seat that I may preserve the rights and the liberty of my people. My soul standeth fast in that liberty in the which God hath made us free.

I suspect that “I am not angry” takes on additional meaning when read in light of Moroni’s frequent anger.

Pahoran is a deeply decent human being.  In his situation, there is no way in heck I’d be rejoicing in the greatness of Moroni’s heart.  (Unless this is the southern-style “well, bless your heart” insult or the “well, your heart was in the right place” smackdown.)

What evidence did Pahoran find of the greatness of Moroni’s heart?

Remember when Ammoron and Moroni were exchanging letters and just making each other angrier and angrier?  I think we should read Pahoran’s “I am not angry” in that light–he was given a golden opportunity to escalate the anger by writing Moroni a Really. Scathing. Letter.  But he didn’t.  He decided not to get angry.

10 And now, behold, we will resist wickedness even unto bloodshed. We would not shed the blood of the Lamanites if they would stay in their own land.

11 We would not shed the blood of our brethren if they would not rise up in rebellion and take the sword against us.

Why do you think Pahoran included v10-11 in this letter, given that Moroni knows this, agrees to it, and it really isn’t germane to the point of the letter?

12 We would subject ourselves to the yoke of bondage if it were requisite with the justice of God, or if he should command us so to do.

This is a very interesting idea.  Again, not entirely relevant to the letter exchange, but an interesting concept nonetheless.  Do you think this is a universally true principle?

13 But behold he doth not command us that we shall subject ourselves to our enemies, but that we should put our trust in him, and he will deliver us.

14 Therefore, my beloved brother, Moroni, let us resist evil, and whatsoever evil we cannot resist with our words, yea, such as rebellions and dissensions, let us resist them with our swords, that we may retain our freedom, that we may rejoice in the great privilege of our church, and in the cause of our Redeemer and our God.

I like the idea of first trying to resist evil with words.

How do you mesh the counsel to “resist evil” with Jesus’ counsel to “resist not evil” (Mt 5:39)?

Can rebellions and dissensions ever be resisted with words?

15 Therefore, come unto me speedily with a few of your men, and leave the remainder in the charge of Lehi and Teancum; give unto them power to conduct the war in that part of the land, according to the Spirit of God, which is also the spirit of freedom which is in them.

Is it odd that Pahoran is calling the military shots here?

Does this verse equate the spirit of freedom with the Spirit of God?

16 Behold I have sent a few provisions unto them, that they may not perish until ye can come unto me.

So . . . why didn’t he send any provisions or, at least, any word to Moroni?

Note that Pahoran was able to control at least some provisions.  Does this make Moroni’s letter look a little less crazy?  Does it make Pahoran a little guilty for not sending these provisions sooner?

17 Gather together whatsoever force ye can upon your march hither, and we will go speedily against those dissenters, in the strength of our God according to the faith which is in us.

18 And we will take possession of the city of Zarahemla, that we may obtain more food to send forth unto Lehi and Teancum; yea, we will go forth against them in the strength of the Lord, and we will put an end to this great iniquity.

19 And now, Moroni, I do joy in receiving your epistle, for I was somewhat worried concerning what we should do, whether it should be just in us to go against our brethren.

Again, Pahoran is a really nice guy for saying that he enjoyed Moroni’s epistle.

It is fascinating that Pahoran hesitated to go against renegade Nephites–one suspects that Moroni would not have hesitated in this situation and Pahoran was certainly aware of Moroni’s history of killing dissenters.  Why might Pahoran have hesitated?

20 But ye have said, except they repent the Lord hath commanded you that ye should go against them.

Fascinating that Pahoran was able to take words directed at him and apply them to their enemies.  (Perhaps this verse is also a hint as to why Moroni’s letter was included in the canon.)

This is a really good example of choosing to look past/beyond/around the parts of a talk that offend you or don’t apply to you and just focusing on the nuggets that are useful to you.

21 See that ye strengthen Lehi and Teancum in the Lord; tell them to fear not, for God will deliver them, yea, and also all those who stand fast in that liberty wherewith God hath made them free. And now I close mine epistle to my beloved brother, Moroni.

Neal A. Maxwell on these two letters:

Moroni was not the first underinformed leader to conclude that another leader was not doing enough. Nor was Pahoran’s sweet, generous response to his “beloved brother” Moroni the last such that will be needed. Oct 76 GC

David A. Bednar on this exchange:

During a perilous period of war, an exchange of letters occurred between Moroni, the captain of the Nephite armies, and Pahoran, the chief judge and governor of the land. Moroni, whose army was suffering because of inadequate support from the government, wrote to Pahoran “by the way of condemnation” and harshly accused him of thoughtlessness, slothfulness, and neglect. Pahoran might easily have resented Moroni and his message, but he chose not to take offense. Pahoran responded compassionately and described a rebellion against the government about which Moroni was not aware. And then he responded, “Behold, I say unto you, Moroni, that I do not joy in your great afflictions, yea, it grieves my soul. … And now, in your epistle you have censured me, but it mattereth not; I am not angry, but do rejoice in the greatness of your heart.” One of the greatest indicators of our own spiritual maturity is revealed in how we respond to the weaknesses, the inexperience, and the potentially offensive actions of others. A thing, an event, or an expression may be offensive, but you and I can choose not to be offended—and to say with Pahoran, “it mattereth not.” Oct 06 GC

CHAPTER 62

1 And now it came to pass that when Moroni had received this epistle his heart did take courage, and was filled with exceedingly great joy because of the faithfulness of Pahoran, that he was not also a traitor to the freedom and cause of his country.

Shouldn’t he have been a little chagrined or embarrassed or penitent as well?

2 But he did also mourn exceedingly because of the iniquity of those who had driven Pahoran from the judgment-seat, yea, in fine because of those who had rebelled against their country and also their God.

And now we have courage and mourning . . . but still no remorse for his false accusations?

3 And it came to pass that Moroni took a small number of men, according to the desire of Pahoran, and gave Lehi and Teancum command over the remainder of his army, and took his march towards the land of Gideon.

4 And he did raise the standard of liberty in whatsoever place he did enter, and gained whatsoever force he could in all his march towards the land of Gideon.

5 And it came to pass that thousands did flock unto his standard, and did take up their swords in the defence of their freedom, that they might not come into bondage.

6 And thus, when Moroni had gathered together whatsoever men he could in all his march, he came to the land of Gideon; and uniting his forces with those of Pahoran they became exceedingly strong, even stronger than the men of Pachus, who was the king of those dissenters who had driven the freemen out of the land of Zarahemla and had taken possession of the land.

7 And it came to pass that Moroni and Pahoran went down with their armies into the land of Zarahemla, and went forth against the city, and did meet the men of Pachus, insomuch that they did come to battle.

8 And behold, Pachus was slain and his men were taken prisoners, and Pahoran was restored to his judgment-seat.

9 And the men of Pachus received their trial, according to the law, and also those king-men who had been taken and cast into prison; and they were executed according to the law; yea, those men of Pachus and those king-men, whosoever would not take up arms in the defence of their country, but would fight against it, were put to death.

Interesting that they were offered a trial:  it seems that the Nephites tried leaders and executed underlings without trial–kind of the opposite of what we do today.

Again, I find it interesting that (1) they were offered an opportunity to avoid punishment (by taking up arms) but that (2) they couldn’t just sign a non-aggression pact or whatever, but they had to actually join the military.

10 And thus it became expedient that this law should be strictly observed for the safety of their country; yea, and whosoever was found denying their freedom was speedily executed according to the law.

Interesting to see safety positioned as a core value of the Nephites.

Ironic to say that those who would deny freedom would be executed.

What does this verse teach you about the interplay of safety and freedom, crime and punishment,  in a just society?

11 And thus ended the thirtieth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi; Moroni and Pahoran having restored peace to the land of Zarahemla, among their own people, having inflicted death upon all those who were not true to the cause of freedom.

12 And it came to pass in the *commencement of the thirty and first year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, Moroni immediately caused that provisions should be sent, and also an army of six thousand men should be sent unto Helaman, to assist him in preserving that part of the land.

13 And he also caused that an army of six thousand men, with a sufficient quantity of food, should be sent to the armies of Lehi and Teancum. And it came to pass that this was done to fortify the land against the Lamanites.

14 And it came to pass that Moroni and Pahoran, leaving a large body of men in the land of Zarahemla, took their march with a large body of men towards the land of Nephihah, being determined to overthrow the Lamanites in that city.

15 And it came to pass that as they were marching towards the land, they took a large body of men of the Lamanites, and slew many of them, and took their provisions and their weapons of war.

Are we supposed to compare the “large bodies” of v14 with those of v15?

16 And it came to pass after they had taken them, they caused them to enter into a covenant that they would no more take up their weapons of war against the Nephites.

Why do you think this group was willing to enter into this covenant when previous Lamanite conquests were not?  (Were they just being less honest about their ability to keep this covenant?)

Are forced covenants legitimate?

17 And when they had entered into this covenant they sent them to dwell with the people of Ammon, and they were in number about four thousand who had not been slain.

I bet the people of Ammon were just thrilled about this!

Is it significant that they get sent to Jershon as opposed to somewhere else?  (Why mention where they were sent?)  Is the point that both groups have taken oaths not to take up weapons again?

Why didn’t these people have to join the military as a condition, as the kingmen did?

18 And it came to pass that when they had sent them away they pursued their march towards the land of Nephihah. And it came to pass that when they had come to the city of Nephihah, they did pitch their tents in the plains of Nephihah, which is near the city of Nephihah.

 

19 Now Moroni was desirous that the Lamanites should come out to battle against them, upon the plains; but the Lamanites, knowing of their exceedingly great courage, and beholding the greatness of their numbers, therefore they durst not come out against them; therefore they did not come to battle in that day.

20 And when the night came, Moroni went forth in the darkness of the night, and came upon the top of the wall to spy out in what part of the city the Lamanites did camp with their army.

Why the top of the wall detail?  (Is he a precursor of Samuel the Lamanite?)

Is it weird that Moroni himself and not some lower-level spy does this?

21 And it came to pass that they were on the east, by the entrance; and they were all asleep. And now Moroni returned to his army, and caused that they should prepare in haste strong cords and ladders, to be let down from the top of the wall into the inner part of the wall.

22 And it came to pass that Moroni caused that his men should march forth and come upon the top of the wall, and let themselves down into that part of the city, yea, even on the west, where the Lamanites did not camp with their armies.

Is this meant to echo the invasion of Jericho?

23 And it came to pass that they were all let down into the city by night, by the means of their strong cords and their ladders; thus when the morning came they were all within the walls of the city.

If this is an echo of Jericho, does this cord have any relationship to Rahab’s?

24 And now, when the Lamanites awoke and saw that the armies of Moroni were within the walls, they were affrighted exceedingly, insomuch that they did flee out by the pass.

25 And now when Moroni saw that they were fleeing before him, he did cause that his men should march forth against them, and slew many, and surrounded many others, and took them prisoners; and the remainder of them fled into the land of Moroni, which was in the borders by the seashore.

26 Thus had Moroni and Pahoran obtained the possession of the city of Nephihah without the loss of one soul; and there were many of the Lamanites who were slain.

Why is Pahoran credited here?

27 Now it came to pass that many of the Lamanites that were prisoners were desirous to join the people of Ammon and become a free people.

28 And it came to pass that as many as were desirous, unto them it was granted according to their desires.

On the one hand, these seems much different than the forced covenant but, on the other hand, it seems to be the exact same story.

What exactly would this have entailed?  (Another covenant?  A promise of some sort?  They already don’t have weapons . . .) And why aren’t we told what exactly they had to do to make this transition?

29 Therefore, all the prisoners of the Lamanites did join the people of Ammon, and did begin to labor exceedingly, tilling the ground, raising all manner of grain, and flocks and herds of every kind; and thus were the Nephites relieved from a great burden; yea, insomuch that they were relieved from all the prisoners of the Lamanites.

Do you read the “all” as hyperbole?

30 Now it came to pass that Moroni, after he had obtained possession of the city of Nephihah, having taken many prisoners, which did reduce the armies of the Lamanites exceedingly, and having regained many of the Nephites who had been taken prisoners, which did strengthen the army of Moroni exceedingly; therefore Moroni went forth from the land of Nephihah to the land of Lehi.

Skousen reads “retained” instead of “regained” here.

31 And it came to pass that when the Lamanites saw that Moroni was coming against them, they were again frightened and fled before the army of Moroni.

32 And it came to pass that Moroni and his army did pursue them from city to city, until they were met by Lehi and Teancum; and the Lamanites fled from Lehi and Teancum, even down upon the borders by the seashore, until they came to the land of Moroni.

33 And the armies of the Lamanites were all gathered together, insomuch that they were all in one body in the land of Moroni. Now Ammoron, the king of the Lamanites, was also with them.

34 And it came to pass that Moroni and Lehi and Teancum did encamp with their armies round about in the borders of the land of Moroni, insomuch that the Lamanites were encircled about in the borders by the wilderness on the south, and in the borders by the wilderness on the east.

35 And thus they did encamp for the night. For behold, the Nephites and the Lamanites also were weary because of the greatness of the march; therefore they did not resolve upon any stratagem in the night-time, save it were Teancum; for he was exceedingly angry with Ammoron, insomuch that he considered that Ammoron, and Amalickiah his brother, had been the cause of this great and lasting war between them and the Lamanites, which had been the cause of so much war and bloodshed, yea, and so much famine.

Finally, someone besides Moroni is angry . . .

Note that Moroni didn’t have a plan for that night, but Teancum makes his own plan.  Are we then to presume he is in the wrong because he isn’t following the lead of Moroni?

36 And it came to pass that Teancum in his anger did go forth into the camp of the Lamanites, and did let himself down over the walls of the city. And he went forth with a cord, from place to place, insomuch that he did find the king; and he did cast a javelin at him, which did pierce him near the heart. But behold, the king did awaken his servants before he died, insomuch that they did pursue Teancum, and slew him.

So are we to think that Teancum did the wrong thing, since he was motivated by anger and ended up dying?

Should we be comparing this story to Jael and Sisera?  (If so, what to make of the gender inversions?)

Eugene England on Teancum:

In many ways, Teancum was a heroic extension of Moroni’s own quickness, decisiveness, and boldness. Teancum’s personal courage went almost to the point of recklessness, in a way that appeals to our sense of adventure even while we recognize the dangers. Citation

37 Now it came to pass that when Lehi and Moroni knew that Teancum was dead they were exceedingly sorrowful; for behold, he had been a man who had fought valiantly for his country, yea, a true friend to liberty; and he had suffered very many exceedingly sore afflictions. But behold, he was dead, and had gone the way of all the earth.

Remember that Teancum had done something very similar (tent, king, sneak in, javelin, heart) in Alma 51 with Amalickiah, and that had worked out well for him.  Given that we see virtually the same story happen a second time, but with a very different ending, I wonder if we are supposed to be drawing some sort of moral lesson from it.  At the same time, this verse eulogizes Teancum in a way that makes it clear that we are not supposed to be seeing him as a “bad guy.”  So why was this story included and what are we supposed to learn from it?

38 Now it came to pass that Moroni marched forth on the morrow, and came upon the Lamanites, insomuch that they did slay them with a great slaughter; and they did drive them out of the land; and they did flee, even that they did not return at that time against the Nephites.

Does this final victory happen because they were motivated by the death of Teancum?  Or perhaps because Teancum’s assassination of Ammoron broke the will of the Lamanites?  (And how does your answer here determine how you view Teancum?  Is he supposed to be a martyr?  Or someone who didn’t follow directions?)

39 And thus *ended the thirty and first year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi; and thus they had had wars, and bloodsheds, and famine, and affliction, for the space of many years.

40 And there had been murders, and contentions, and dissensions, and all manner of iniquity among the people of Nephi; nevertheless for the righteous’ sake, yea, because of the prayers of the righteous, they were spared.

Big idea here:  the power of prayer.

41 But behold, because of the exceedingly great length of the war between the Nephites and the Lamanites many had become hardened, because of the exceedingly great length of the war; and many were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility.

Fascinating:  the same event has opposite effects on different people.

42 And it came to pass that after Moroni had fortified those parts of the land which were most exposed to the Lamanites, until they were sufficiently strong, he returned to the city of Zarahemla; and also Helaman returned to the place of his inheritance; and there was once more peace established among the people of Nephi.

43 And Moroni yielded up the command of his armies into the hands of his son, whose name was Moronihah; and he retired to his own house that he might spend the remainder of his days in peace.

44 And Pahoran did return to his judgment-seat; and Helaman did take upon him again to preach unto the people the word of God; for because of so many wars and contentions it had become expedient that a regulation should be made again in the church.

45 Therefore, Helaman and his brethren went forth, and did declare the word of God with much power unto the convincing of many people of their wickedness, which did cause them to repent of their sins and to be baptized unto the Lord their God.

46 And it came to pass that they did establish again the church of God, throughout all the land.

47 Yea, and regulations were made concerning the law. And their judges, and their chief judges were chosen.

48 And the people of Nephi began to prosper again in the land, and began to multiply and to wax exceedingly strong again in the land. And they began to grow exceedingly rich.

49 But notwithstanding their riches, or their strength, or their prosperity, they were not lifted up in the pride of their eyes; neither were they slow to remember the Lord their God; but they did humble themselves exceedingly before him.

This is fairly surprising:  Do we get any hint as to how they were able to avoid the pride cycle?  (Does the next verse answer this question?)

50 Yea, they did remember how great things the Lord had done for them, that he had delivered them from death, and from bonds, and from prisons, and from all manner of afflictions, and he had delivered them out of the hands of their enemies.

51 And they did pray unto the Lord their God continually, insomuch that the Lord did bless them, according to his word, so that they did wax strong and prosper in the land.

52 And it came to pass that all these things were done. And Helaman died, in the *thirty and fifth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.

CHAPTER 63

1 And it came to pass in the *commencement of the thirty and sixth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, that Shiblon took possession of those sacred things which had been delivered unto Helaman by Alma.

Is it noteworthy that the records went to a brother instead of a son.  (Although Nephi gave the plates to Jacob, so it isn’t unprecedented.)

Grant Hardy suggests that this verse implies that Helaman dropped the ball by not conveying the records to the next record-keeper before he died.

2 And he was a just man, and he did walk uprightly before God; and he did observe to do good continually, to keep the commandments of the Lord his God; and also did his brother.

I think the “he” here refers to Helaman.

Compare this statement of praise with the famous one directed at Moroni in Alma 48.  What do you conclude?

Reading this verse against v1, I think that Mormon is reassuring us that Helaman was a decent guy, despite the fact that he failed in the task of properly conveying the plates.  (Perhaps he simply did not anticipate his death, which, you know . . .)

3 And it came to pass that Moroni died also. And thus ended the thirty and sixth year of the reign of the judges.

4 And it came to pass that in the *thirty and seventh year of the reign of the judges, there was a large company of men, even to the amount of five thousand and four hundred men, with their wives and their children, departed out of the land of Zarahemla into the land which was northward.

Why did they leave?  (In the past, the only groups that have left have been apostates.  You would think that if that were not the case here, their motive would have been explained to us, since the default assumption is likely to be that they were apostates.)

Is the number significant?

5 And it came to pass that Hagoth, he being an exceedingly curious man, therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship, on the borders of the land Bountiful, by the land Desolation, and launched it forth into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward.

Is it clear that Hagoth is part of the group from v4, or is this a different group?

Here are all the BoM uses of “curious.”  (Note that the word is normally used to modify “workmanship.”)

Assuming that the v5 people and the v4 people are the same people, is it safe to conclude that their motive for leaving was curiosity?

The last time someone built a ship, it was at the Lord’s command.  Is that the case here?  What might we learn by comparing Nephi and Hagoth’s efforts?  What about Noah?

 

6 And behold, there were many of the Nephites who did enter therein and did sail forth with much provisions, and also many women and children; and they took their course northward. And thus ended the thirty and seventh year.

7 And in the thirty and eighth year, this man built other ships. And the first ship did also return, and many more people did enter into it; and they also took much provisions, and set out again to the land northward.

The idea of multiple and return voyages sets this apart from Nephi.

8 And it came to pass that they were never heard of more. And we suppose that they were drowned in the depths of the sea. And it came to pass that one other ship also did sail forth; and whither she did go we know not.

So are we supposed to interpret this incident as a cautionary tale about “curiosity”?  Note that the hand of the Lord is never mentioned in this adventure, and the pattern is that people who leave the place where the Nephites are gathered tend to be apostates.

Why do you think this incident was included in the record?

In an April 1947 GC talk, Spencer W. Kimball implied that these people were the ancestors of the Pacific Islanders.

This article explores traditions about Hagoth.

9 And it came to pass that in this year there were many people who went forth into the land northward. And thus ended the thirty and eighth year.

10 And it came to pass in the *thirty and ninth year of the reign of the judges, Shiblon died also, and Corianton had gone forth to the land northward in a ship, to carry forth provisions unto the people who had gone forth into that land.

So Shiblon only had the record for +/- 3 years (as is, perhaps, to be expected when the record goes to a brother instead of a son).  His main record-keeping activity (that is, as far as we know–who knows what got left on Mormon’s cutting room floor?) was the story of Hagoth and his ships.  What is so unusual about this story is its utter impenetrability in terms of the moral of the story:  Were these good guys or bad guys?  Motivated by the Lord or by curiosity?  Did they meet a terrible end, or a great one that Shiblon just doesn’t know about, because Shiblon is the bad guy who gets left in Jerusalem (so to speak)?  Not only is this enigmatic story interesting in its own right, but it is interesting in terms of what it tells us about Shiblon and how it functions as the capstone to the days of Helaman and Moroni.  What does it say about their time to have a Nephi-like character immediately follow them?  And, how does Corianton fit into all this, with his offer of provisions?

11 Therefore it became expedient for Shiblon to confer those sacred things, before his death, upon the son of Helaman, who was called Helaman, being called after the name of his father.

Can you determine who Helaman1 didn’t just give the record to Helaman2?

“Being called after the name of his father” may be the least necessary phrase in the BoM.  ;)

12 Now behold, all those engravings which were in the possession of Helaman were written and sent forth among the children of men throughout all the land, save it were those parts which had been commanded by Alma should not go forth.

I think this is the first time we hear of a general dissemination of the scriptures, although several other stories assume that people have access to them.

Why is the phrase “children of men” used here?  (Is there any relation to the genealogical information given in the previous verse?)

Does the “parts” that Alma commanded refer to parts of the scriptures or parts of the land?  (Because that is a pretty delicious ambiguity!)

Presumably, the parts that Alma said shouldn’t go forth refer to the prophecies about the decline and fall of the Nephites.  Of course, since we, as the audience, know about those prophecies, this verse functions with a wink and a nod to make the reader into an insider.

13 Nevertheless, these things were to be kept sacred, and handed down from one generation to another; therefore, in this year, they had been conferred upon Helaman, before the death of Shiblon.

Does this verse imply a tension between public dissemination and keeping something sacred?  Is that tension troubling, unavoidable, natural, or what?

14 And it came to pass also in this year that there were some dissenters who had gone forth unto the Lamanites; and they were stirred up again to anger against the Nephites.

It’s like deja vu all over again!

15 And also in this same year they came down with a numerous army to war against the people of Moronihah, or against the army of Moronihah, in the which they were beaten and driven back again to their own lands, suffering great loss.

16 And thus ended the thirty and ninth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.

17 And thus ended the account of Alma, and Helaman his son, and also Shiblon, who was his son.

The account of Alma ended a long time ago and Helaman awhile ago–why do you think they are grouped together here?  (Which is another way of saying:  Why is all of this calling the Book of Alma instead of being the Book of Alma, the Book of Helaman, and the Book of Shiblon?)

General thoughts:

(1) In the last lesson, I floated the idea that Helaman might be something of an Isaac figure; there is general agreement that the Isaac in the OT is someone who is acted upon and doesn’t act, something of a placeholder in the line of patriarchs.  Remember that Helaman was not Alma’s first choice for taking the record; he only was given the record after Nephihah turned Alma down.  We might have expected this section of the BoM to be the story of Helaman’s ministry; instead, it is the story of Moroni’s wars.  Helaman only enters the story when the striplings ask for him.  (Admittedly, this may point the other way–the striplings may have recognized leadership ability of Helaman’s part.)  We have a very bizarre verse telling us that Helaman was “no less serviceable” to the Lord than Moroni.  (Gee, thanks.)  We see Helaman asking the striplings if they want to go to battle (what general asks the enlisted men that?).  Even when Helaman is in the spotlight as the leader of the striplings, we only know about that because we are, in effect, standing over Moroni’s shoulder and reading his letter.  (Meaning that Moroni is still the main character in the story–not Helaman.)  I’m also wondering if it is significant that there is something of a role reversal, with Moroni taking on some religious duties (such as his lecture to Pahoran about how God operates) and Helaman taking on some military duties, in leading the striplings into battle.  Grant Hardy points out that Helaman is the only one of Alma’s sons not taken on the mission to the Zoramites and that, unlike Shiblon, Helaman’s faithfulness is not praised in Alma’s final counsel to his sons.  Also, there is reason to believe that Helaman did not properly maintain or convey the sacred records.  In other words, the whole portrait of Helaman, up to this point, is of a passive person, not a leader.  What to make of this?  (My goal isn’t to trash Helaman here.  Some things we might learn from him include the idea that the Lord can get the job done, even when he has less-than-perfect-people to work through.  Also, in some ways, Helaman comes off as superior to Moroni–Helaman isn’t the one who makes wild, false allegations against Pahoran–so everyone in this story is flawed and yet, somehow, everything manages to work out.)

(2) We considered the “why the war chapters?” question in the last lesson, but it is worth revisiting.  In the past, I’ve thought that an allegorical approach might be productive, especially as it led to us consider more-than-literal readings for other parts of the BoM.  Now, I am more enamored of the ethical issues and patterns (and, of course, violations of patterns) in these chapters.  I’ve also seen it suggested that we can read the entire BoM as a symbol of the mortal journey, and that turns the war chapters into the “enduring the end and waiting for Christ” part. (Note that, at this point in the history in the Bible, there is a lacuna–about 400 years with no canonized record.  How does that silence compare to the war chapters in the BoM?)

(3) So here’s an intriguing statement from David O. McKay on the people of Ammon:

Do we hold them [=covenants] as sacred as did the people of Ammon, the story of whom you find in the Book of Mormon, who made an oath that they would never shed blood, and the time came when their benefactors were being punished, persecuted, killed, and the people of Ammon thought they would break that oath, but Helaman said no. And so those good men and women preferred death, if necessary, rather than break their word, violate their oath.  Oct 1952 GC

I was surprised to see “and women” in that quote.  Perhaps that was just a throw-away line (although I seriously doubt people–especially people born in the 19th century–were as reflexively inclusive in 1952 as we might be today), but I had never considered the idea that the oath-makers of Ammon and the people who died rather than take up arms might have been female.  If we take this as a serious comment on the story, then we need to reconsider the context of what the striplings’ mothers had taught their children.  The “don’t doubt” statement also functions a little differently if we consider that the mothers themselves might have been in the battle if not for their oath.  Now, their testimony, not their bodies, are in the battle.

(4) From Vicki F. Matsumori:

My message today is for you first-generation members who may have been born to goodly parents and yet were not taught the gospel in your homes. Instead of being like the army of Helaman, who “had been taught by their mothers [that] God would deliver them,” you may be like their parents, the people of Ammon, who grew up as nonbelievers. It may be helpful to review the story about the people of Ammon. They were Lamanites who had been taught the gospel by Ammon, Aaron, and others. When they accepted the gospel, these Lamanites were called the Anti-Nephi-Lehies and later called the people of Ammon. The sons of these people of Ammon were the army of Helaman, who helped fight the nonconverted Lamanites. So the strength of the army of Helaman really began with their parents, who were the people of Ammon. They were the ones who first learned the gospel from the scriptures. They were the ones who learned about the power of prayer. And they were the ones who first made and kept covenants with the Lord. And just as it began with them, it begins with you. As first-generation members, you are the ones who begin the cycle of teaching and strengthening the next generation. Apr 07 GC

I like how she turned this in to a lesson for new converts and pointed out their ability to produce faithful children, something that, I think, can often seem impossible to people who are new to the church.

(5) President Monson reads the story of the stripling soldiers as one of the triumph of mother love in an Oct 73 Conference Talk.

(6) An article by Eugene England about Moroni here.  All sorts of great observations (it is well worth your time to read the whole thing), here’s just one:

[Moroni] gave the command of the armies to his son, Moronihah, and “retired to his own house that he might spend the remainder of his days in peace.” He was only about thirty-nine years old, a man of personal power, honored prowess, and commanding presence. We wonder about the rest of his life (he died at about age forty-three—see Alma 63:3) and the continuing contribution he may have honorably made to his society; but Mormon tells us nothing.

He concludes that there is no one morally right response to the threat of violence.  Also, and this idea only seems obvious once you have heard it articulated,  the BoM is clear that all-out warfare is never acceptable, no matter what the circumstances.

(7) Grant Hardy points out that Mormon (and, I would add for our purpose here, Moroni) never uses militarism or war as a metaphor for Christian living (putting on the armor of God, Lord of Hosts, etc.) or speaks figuratively of war.  I think that is an important thing to note as we evaluate the BoM’s message about warfare; it also might impact our willingness to interpret the war chapters allegorically or metaphorically.

(8) More thoughts on the character of Moroni.  Grant Hardy points out that we never see Moroni engage in “personal acts of faith” and “he is not portrayed as a particularly religious man.”  (I would point out that he does seek counsel from Alma and he does use religious justifications and motivations for warfare.)  Is this an unintended side effect of the record compilation (or, does it reflect a missed opportunity or mistake in the compilation), or does it tell us something about Moroni?  Also, we’ve noted that the most prominent personal characteristic of Moroni is his anger.  What to make of this?  What do we learn from it that might be relevant to our own lives?  Also, I am intrigued by the comparison between Moroni and Helaman:  note the extensive similarities.  It isn’t just that both are military leaders, but both have to deal with POWs, both negotiate over prisoners with Ammoron via letter, both respond via letter to the problem of not getting provisions from Pahoran, etc.  What do you learn from comparing them?  (My quick-and-dirty take:  Helaman is weak and Moroni is angry; neither is perfect, but both are able to get the job done with the Lord’s help.)

(9) Reminder:  entire book on warfare in the BoM available here.

(10) And, finally, comic relief from Rex D. Pinegar:

When I was teaching an early-morning seminary class a number of years ago, we paused at the end of the year to review some principles we had learned from our study of the Book of Mormon. One young lady held up an illustration in her Book of Mormon, painted by Arnold Friberg. It depicted the two thousand sons of Helaman known as the “stripling soldiers.” Then in all seriousness she asked, “Tell me, Brother Pinegar, why aren’t our young men built like this today?” Oct 1982 GC

4 Responses to BMGD #32: Alma 53-63

  1. J Town on August 16, 2012 at 10:41 am

    Regarding Moroni’s letter to Pahoran, I don’t think it’s entirely an oops moment. Remember that before firing off that letter, Moroni had already 1.) heard about Helaman’s army and their precarious situation 2.) sent a letter to Pahoran and received no reply and 3.) heard of an unexpected and avoidable defeat that came as a direct cause of government inaction. I think that’s fairly sufficient evidence that something is wrong and that stronger action is warranted.

    Of course, the letter is quite strong and does contain condemnatory language, which Pahoran points out, but it also is directed not only to Pahoran, but “also to all those who have been chosen by this people to govern and manage the affairs of this war”. He’s trying to provoke (being the operative word) some action.

    Also, I noted that he uses a lot of “do you think?” and “if so, then no” kind of language. So he’s not assigning one particular motive to Pahoran or the government. It seems to me that he’s trying to explain why it is absolutely unacceptable that the armies are neglected in the way that they have been. He’s removing potential excuses. Also, he warns them of the consequences if no action is taken.

    Moroni is forceful about it, no doubt, but I think that’s just Moroni’s personality. He’s a man of action, he doesn’t sit back and let things take their course (ala Helaman), he shakes it up. And as we see from Pahoran’s response, which I agree was very humble and an excellent example of how to respond to anger, Pahoran himself had not yet taken action against the rebels because he wasn’t entirely convinced if he should. So Moroni’s missive was necessary, in the long run, even if a bit harsh by current standards.

  2. Julie M. Smith on August 16, 2012 at 11:39 am

    J Town, that’s an excellent reading. Thank you.

  3. Mark on August 26, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    Julie, I’ve been using your insights for over two years now as I’ve prepared my Sunday lessons, and I’m thankful for (and frankly amazed by) all the work you’ve put into this.

    Responding internally to your questions is often interesting and rewarding. For example, your comment on 53:4 (“Should we be reading this verse allegorically? (If we wanted to, the part about building defenses is fairly easy to do, but the part about using POWs to do it takes a little more imagination.”)) caused me to think about how sometimes we’re able to use negative personal traits or bad habits (our personal enemies) to help us become stronger (e.g., an addictive or OCD personality can be channeled toward more positive activities), and weak things can be made strong.

    Thanks, from one of no doubt many silent readers who appreciate your help.

  4. Julie M. Smith on August 26, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    Thanks, Mark. I appreciate the feedback.